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Birken Vogt

New Member
A quick search on Google Maps shows that line continued up to Eureka and beyond. Can anyone tell me the history of this line? Looks like real twisty turny country. Birken


New Member
Heck of a history with this line...

Basically, the Northwestern Pacific started out in the 1870's/early 1880's as a couple patchworks of independent railroads, one in the Eureka area and the other in the north bay area. (Eureka is next to Humboldt Bay, and all of the equipment for these early railroads up north came in by boat). The independents pushed the northern lines as far south as the Scotia area and the southern lines as far north as the Ukiah area. Most of the northern lines were dependent on, or related to, the redwood lumber industry. Redwood logged in the Eureka region built (and then re-built after 1906) a lot of San Francisco; however, because of the lack of a rail connection, all lumber left in ships, and at least a couple operators would build giant log rafts that would be floated down the ocean to sawmills set up in the bay area.

This situation started to change right after 1900, when both the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific went head to head over the region. The Eureka area was the last major part of California without rail service, and the two railroads started fighting to be the carrier providing the service. The Santa Fe purchased most of the roads in the Eureka area, and the Southern Pacific purchased most of the roads in the southern cluster, and then the two started laying plans for what would have been duplicate lines through the Eel River Canyon. However, before the conflict could get too advanced the SP and ATSF came to an agreement under which the two railroads created a single subisidary, the Northwestern Pacific, to which they deeded all of the independent railroads they had collected. The NWP then completed the rail line connecting Eureka with the outside world in 1914.

The NWP was a busy railroad, but the ATSF was never able to really incorporate it into their system as they had no direct connection. Interchange traffic between NWP and ATSF was handled by barges. ATSF eventually gave up on the NWP, and around the mid-1920's they sold their half share in the road to the SP.

The NWP at its height was an amazing railroad. You had the mainline running up to Eureka, with a number of branches in the Eureka area. This line generated sometimes hundreds of cars of lumber traffic each day heading south, plus passenger traffic, some agricultural traffic, and a good amount of express fish traffic (for many years, the NWP operated a service that had fish taken off of boats in Eureka that afternoon on the streets of San Francisco by the following morning). Down south, the NWP operated a narrow gauge subsidiary that lasted until the 1930's and an extensive electrified commuter railroad serving most of the communities in the north bay, plus an extensive ferry service connecting the north bay with the other ports around the bay that lasted into the 1940's.

The NWP continued to be a profitable railroad, but at the same time it operated over some of the most geologically unstable terrain found anywhere. Each winter would typically wash out the line in numerous places, with numerous landslides, slipouts, etc. In 1964 a big flood damaged or destroyed over 100 miles of the railroad, which the NWP rebuilt in 177 days. A tunnel fire that closed the line for over a year, a series of rough winters and declining traffic levels caused the SP to give up on the NWP in the early 1980's. In late 1984, SP sold the line from Willits to Eureka to the new Eureka Southern Railroad, which lasted for two years before declaring bankruptcy. The shortline operated under bankruptcy protection until 1992, when a new public agency (North Coast Railroad Authority) purchased the line and started operations as the North Coast Railroad. In 1993, SP leased the rest of the old NWP to the California Northern Railroad.

The situation changed again in early 1996/1997 when public agencies took over the rest of the NWP (North Coast Railroad purchased the line from Willits to Healdsburg, and the newly created Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority purchased the line south from there). The North Coast Railroad changed its name to the Northwestern Pacific and assumed operations of the entire line. However, in the early days of 1998 floods closed the line north of Eureka again, and the railroad could not get the money to fix it (a very long and complicated story), and then in November 1998 the FRA issued an emergency order closing the rest of the NWP due to bad track conditions. The story since then has taken a lot of twists and turns, but basically put a private contractor got part of the line reopened for a few months in 2001 until bad relationships between the contractor and the public agencies crushed those efforts, and now a new contractor has led to these current efforts. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority has since morphed into the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which is in the process of trying to re-create a part of the old interurban rail system the NWP once had.

Jeff Moore
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