Northwestern Pacific Railroad

Northwest Pacific Railroad and the North Coast Railroad Authority

Construction began on the Northwest Pacific Railroad in 1906 and was completed in 1914. A landslide delayed the inaugural run and golden spike ceremony, an appropriate start for a rail line in such a geologically fragile location as the Eel River Canyon.

In 1989 the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) was established by the California Legislature and tasked with saving the rail line from total abandonment.

The Northwest Pacific Railroad was the first railroad to be officially closed by the Federal Railroad Authority. At the time of closure in 1998, the railroad contained more than 208 damaged areas along the 216 miles of track and was within numerous violations of the Fish and Game Code, Health and Safety Code and the Water Code, all meant to protect our Public Trust resources.

The NCRA’s efforts to manage the railroad presented a threat to fisheries recovery. The agency asserted that they could operate outside the regulations of the California Environmental Quality Act, and ultimately in 2011 Friends of the Eel River and Californian’s for Alternatives to Toxins filed joint notices of intent to sue.

History of FOER and CATs v. NCRA


Press Release: Environmental Groups Challenge Railroad’s Failure to Review Impacts
July 20, 2011


Press Release: Court of Appeals Denies Railroad’s latest Attempt to Avoid Trial
March 6, 2013Press Release: Environmental Groups File Appeals in Railroad Case
July 8, 2013


Press Release: California Supreme Court to Review North Coast Railroad Lawsuit
December 11, 2014


Video: FOER and CATs v. NCRA, oral arguments before the California Supreme Court
May 3, 2017A Major Win: The Justices published their opinion declaring that California Environmental Quality Act does apply to state-owned rail projects. The NCRA responded by seeking appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States.Meanwhile, the California Transportation Commission in July asked the NCRA to “prepare a shut-down plan“, in light of their negligent use of state funds. In their annual report to the California legislature, the CTC suggests forming a legislative committee to “explore various scenarios for the Agency’s future”.
July 27, 2017


In January the California Transportation Commission heard testimony from representatives for the NCRA and Friends of the Eel River, as well as other stakeholders in the future of the Northwest Pacific line. Click here to watch video footage of the hearing (select January 31 2018 Pt 2). Click here to read more about the CTC hearing.

In February, State Senator Mike McGuire introduced SB 1029, The Great Redwood Trail Act. The legislation is intended to dismantle the NCRA, railbank the Northwest Pacific line, and establish a multi-use trail along the canyon in a “rails to trails” process. Friends of the Eel River remain engaged in the drafting of this legislation to ensure that cleanup of the existing rail line (including removal of toxics and removing fish passage barriers) is fully funded, and that any trail development complies with California Environmental Quality Act. Click here to read more about FOER’s vision for the Great Redwood Trail.

In April, the Supreme Court of the United States denied the NCRA’s petition to review the 2017 California Supreme Court ruling. This decision means that the State Supreme Court’s ruling stands, and the NCRA remains subject to the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.