Sunday Commentary: Why Rail Relocation Makes Sense For Davis

Third-Street-TrainIn his weekly column last Thursday, City of Davis Chief Innovation Officer Rob White discussed the issue of the grant that will be awarded “for the first tangible step in many years on the Yolo Freight Rail Relocation project.”

In it he noted that the grant from the EDA (Economic Development Administration) will allow the cities of Davis, West Sacramento and Woodland, Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA), which all came together for the first time, to address issues including: 1) flood control (primarily in Woodland and east Davis); 2) removal of at-grade crossings in Davis, West Sacramento and Woodland; and 3) relocation of the 2nd Street switching yard in Davis.

For me there are several key issues involving the city of Davis, but a lot of it involves the fact that what worked for the city fifty years ago, when the rail line was on the edge of town rather than running through the middle of town, does not work now.

Last spring, I highlighted the problem that exists in Davis, given the switching yard location and the at-grade crossings that can block Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Streets for long periods of time as the rail cars simply stop, bisecting portions of old East Davis from the Davis Downtown.

How do we have a modern city that wishes to be a leader of innovation in the 21st Century, when trains stop on the tracks, effectively cutting off main east-west travel connectors?

The second reason to do this is that the rail line is taking up valuable land in the core of Davis that could go toward some redevelopment efforts, both of the land and perhaps in conjunction with surrounding properties.

Writes Rob White, “Davis is taking the lead on the economic development studies because we have the most to gain from a realignment of the north-south tracks out of our downtown.”

The study will focus on the opportunities for economic growth related to increased rail access for agribusiness and industry, redevelopment of urban corridors presently impacted by rail lines, and new sustainable employment.

“This is very exciting as our Yolo County communities work together for the betterment of our region,” stated Davis Mayor Dan Wolk. “It enables us to assess the potential economic benefits and redevelopment opportunities that might result from the removal of the rail barriers currently dividing our cities and downtowns. The grant will also allow us to more thoroughly assess impacts from flooding that might be addressed through rail line relocation in several parts of Yolo County. Pursuing a comprehensive analysis of the enhanced economic opportunities that rail realignment may offer will allow us to create solutions that will better our Yolo cities and our region.”

“This EDA technical assistance grant will allow Davis, West Sacramento, Woodland and Yolo County to move forward with a project that has the potential to generate significant economic development and jobs and provide numerous other benefits, including increased public safety and flood protection,” said Congressman John Garamendi. “This project is a great example of regional cooperation – several government entities coming together to tackle a large economic development project that has the potential to lift the economic prospects of the entire county. I commend city and county officials on securing these funds. I look forward to continuing to partner with them as we build a regional economy that creates opportunities for hardworking Yolo County residents.”

There is a bit of pushback coming from the community. There seem to be three issues that we should address.

First, the north-south rail line is not the point of safety concerns that the oil trains that are moving east-west represent. Given the concerns about oil transportation risks, some believe that the city of Davis should be focused on getting a grant and study to divert the east-west hazardous and flammable cargo that runs through Davis.

Rob White addressed some of these issues, noting it was ironic because the location on the rail line “was a primary driver in the founding of Davis(ville).”

For him, the short answer “is that the east-west line now serves both commuter and freight rail needs, and there is currently no financial driver that would help pay for that (expensive) relocation. Whereas discussions on the north-south line have seen early indications of willingness for relocation, and the financial drivers that would reasonably pay for the project (without requiring the cities or the county to carry the burden) have become aligned.”

Second, that leads us to the cost consideration, which Rob White does not specify but does mention: “These financial drivers are borne by significant flood control improvements, new connections for commerce for our county’s industrial areas and better rail service to our region’s ag industries and food processing.”

But, more importantly, the project produces “collaboration of the five major public agencies and we have willing railroad operators and landowners in the discussion.” He poses the better question to be, “Why wouldn’t we want to assess this opportunity?”

The key here, of course, is “assess.” While it can sometimes become a synonym for “do,” in this case, assessing will address both the costs and benefits of doing.

Finally, and I’m a little disappointed that Rob White did not lay this out more explicitly, there are two huge benefits for Davis – one is not bisecting the city with trains that block traffic, and the other is opening up the area to economic development in the downtown.

It would be helpful to see how much acreage we are talking about, and what can be done in terms of economic development – yes, it is preliminary, but giving the community a vision of the possible might get some excited about the prospects.

My final point here is that this is an early step and we need vigorous discussion about the upsides and downsides to moving the north-south rail out of town.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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23 Comments

  1. Robert Canning

    DG says: “How do we have a modern city that wishes to be a leader of innovation in the 21st Century, when trains stop on the tracks, effectively cutting off main east-west travel connectors?”

    I would like someone to time how long 3rd, 4th, and 5th streets are blocked on a weekly average. How many times a week is 5th street blocked?

    Living near 3rd and J I am very aware of the delays on 3rd street. I do not believe the delays last more than 10 minutes on average a day – and some days they are zero.

    I also challenge the notion that moving the north-south line is associated with the flood control issue. Given what has been written in the last week about this issue, it seems that replacement of the Fremont trestle could go ahead without the relocation of the California Northern tracks in Davis – it is not on the same line. Do the businesses in Woodland and north who use the California Northern for their freight see a benefit in this relocation? Has anyone calculated this or polled them?

    The two advantages seem to be the removal of the at-grade crossings in Davis (there are four plus the one in the train station) and the reversion of the right-of-way to the city. Matt Williams says there are 35 acres of land that would be freed for development by removal of the tracks (correct me if I did not get the acreage right). That seems like a plus for Davis, but what if any are the downsides of this whole proposal? Maybe someone can discuss the other side to this for Davis.

    1. Matt Williams

      I also challenge the notion that moving the north-south line is associated with the flood control issue. Given what has been written in the last week about this issue, it seems that replacement of the Fremont trestle could go ahead without the relocation of the California Northern tracks in Davis – it is not on the same line. Do the businesses in Woodland and north who use the California Northern for their freight see a benefit in this relocation? Has anyone calculated this or polled them?

      Robert, the moving of the North-South tracks out of Davis is an optional add-on to the core West Sacramento to Woodland track relocation, which has to happen in order to achieve the flood control benefit from the removal of the Freemont Trestle north of I-5 east of Woodland. Relocating the West Sacramento to Woodland track on the east side of the Yolo Bypass makes no sense because that would result in replacing one flood control reducing water flow obstacle with another flood control reducing water flow obstacle . So the replacement track, if/when it is built, will be constructed on the west side of the Yolo Bypass.

      So you will have a brand new track that connects the UP East-West Main Line with Woodland. There are three options for the current UP right of way in Davis. (1) Continue to operate California Northern as is, which means redundant operations costs both at the current in Davis switching yard and at the new switching yard between downtown Davis and the Yolo Bypass, (2) move, with virtually no associated capital costs, the California Northern operations to co-locate at the new switching yard, (3) see a competitive bidding short-line railroad out bid California Northern for Union Pacific’s freight transfer business, or (4) see Union Pacific see that they can liquidate their land asset (the north-south right of way and serve their freight transfer customers using the new track.

      Option (4) will result in a unilateral abandonment of the north-south line. Option (3) will result in a unilateral abandonment of the north-south line. Option (2) will result in a collaborative abandonment of the north-south line. Option (1) is the only one that keeps the north-south line alive, but with redundant operations and redundant costs. Which Option do you think the railroads will choose?

    2. Alan Miller

      “I would like someone to time how long 3rd, 4th, and 5th streets are blocked on a weekly average. How many times a week is 5th street blocked?”

      On a typical day there are two trains plus two associated light engine movements from the interchange along 2nd Street. On some days an extra section is run. There is also some tinkering switch movements some days north of 5th and/or 8th Streets, but not all days. California Northern does not run on Sunday or after 10pm until 6am. If you here a train after 10pm, most of the time it is a UPRR train picking up a cut of cars that wouldn’t fit in the interchange tracks along 2nd Street.

      Trains take about 3-5 minutes to pass depending on the length and speed. Light engine one minute. So that’s at most 12 minutes a day. CalNorthern also has this annoying procedure of stopping the train evening/southbound across the downtown crossings while they remove a safety device from the tracks. The blocking of the crossings is not necessary and ends up blocking the crossings an additional 2-4 minutes — I’ve timed it repeatedly. It also is a terrible safety issue as pedestrians and bicyclists get impatient and go over and under the train and between cars while the train is stopped. So about 10-15 minutes a day on a typical day. That is NOTHING compared to many, many towns in America. There are towns that have 50-100 trains a day and the gates are down more than they are up — literally hours of gate-down time.

      Occasionally, something goes wrong and the crossings are blocked for a much longer time. The reason is not the same each time it happens. At least some of these are avoidable with better operating practices.

  2. Don Shor

    I would like someone to time how long 3rd, 4th, and 5th streets are blocked on a weekly average. How many times a week is 5th street blocked?

    I drive that every day, and it barely ever happens any more. And if it does, if you’ve lived here longer than a few weeks you know that you can go up to Covell to get over the tracks.

    There are costs involved in assessing things like this. For now, I gather that is covered by grant funds, so that’s great. But consultants and staff time may start adding up at some point and coming out of the regular budget. As I’ve said before, no matter how bad the fiscal situation is, there always seems to be money for consultants. So I just ask the city council to keep a close watch on expenditures on this.

    1. Alan Miller

      “consultants and staff time may start adding up at some point and coming out of the regular budget.”

      This won’t be a problem, as the staff time comes out of magic creation.

  3. tj

    One downside for east Davis and Woodland may be the location of the new lines. The diagram in the EmptyPrize drew the new rail line very close to Poleline – County Rd. 102 and very close to East Covell.

    I’d like to see an accurate and detailed map of the proposed location.

    1. Matt Williams

      tj, the graphic you refer to is hopelessly dated. Although the route is far from finalized, it more than likely will be somewhat similar to the red and white dashed line on the right side of the graphic below. If it follows that general route, it will come anywhere close to either Pole Line or Covell. The closest it will come to Pole Line is the western edge of the Yolo County Landfill (according to Google Earth 3.2 miles along County Road 28A) The closest it will come to Covell is also the western edge of the Yolo County Landfill (2 miles as the crow flies from the junction of Covell and Mace at the Mace Curve)

      Rail Route

  4. odd man out

    I believe it’s been mentioned before, but not in this discussion: another potential benefit of the rail location MAY be the conversion of the existing line, between the northern Davis border and Woodland, into a shared use path for cyclists and pedestrians.

    As a daily bike commuter between east Davis and UC Davis, I do get stopped by the morning trains fairly often, usually on 8th between 7 and 7:15 am week days. The option of leaving 8th to go to the H St. undercrossing or the Covell overcrossing is not really a practical option on a bike. Even in a car, diverting to Covell after being stuck waiting for the train may be difficult, impossible, or illegal, depending on where one is in the queue.

  5. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    “Rob White addressed some of these issues, noting it was ironic because the location on the rail line “was a primary driver in the founding of Davis(ville).”

    In short, here is the history on this to know. The East-West line, originally from Vallejo to Sacramento, was the primary driver in the founding of Davis. The North-South line was promoted by and built for the farming interests from Woodland up to Marysville. It obviously played a role in Davis history, because it formed the Y and because it provided rail transport for Davis people to travel to Woodland and vice versa. However, unlike the East-West line, which Davis area farmers used to transport their wheat to ships (in Vallejo or later on a spur line to Benicia, the one passengers going to Oakland now use), the North-South line was far less vital to the development of Davis. Its specific layout, of course, was sited where it was because of the Y connection of the two intersecting lines. But otherwise it was far less important. Also, when it came time to siting the University Farm in 1905, it was the East-West line which was vital, because it provided a short, direct train ride for people from Berkeley to come to Davis, which for UCD’s first 51 years was a branch campus of UC Berkeley, and for most of that time, everyone who studied at Davis took some classes at Cal or at the very least went there for graduation exercises.

  6. Jim Frame

    the North-South line was far less vital to the development of Davis

    In the regional economic sense, I agree. However, in terms of development of the town of Davis, the California Pacific Railroad’s line to Woodland predates the town, and in fact the Woodland line served as the baseline for the town’s grid arrangement — all the streets of the old city are parallel with or perpendicular to the Woodland track. There are even a couple of remnant blocks that sit on the south side of the E-W line between the RR and Olive Drive.

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      However, in terms of development of the town of Davis, the California Pacific Railroad’s line to Woodland predates the town,

      This is not true. The East-West line was completed in 1868, the same year the village of Davisville was laid out. The North-South line to Woodland was not built for a few more years. I’d have to look it up to see exactly which year the line to Woodland was laid.

      Wait. I just looked. This is from a story I wrote for The Davis Enterprise:

      “Yolo County pledged $100,000 for a spur from Davis north to the Sacramento River. That part of the Cal-P reached Knights Landing on Sept. 23, 1869, and in late February 1870, it reached Marysville.”

      Jim, you have to keep in mind that the great driver for the Cal-P was connecting everything from Sacramento to Vallejo. Going north was far less important. So much so that towns like Woodland (and some others) were required pledged big money to finance the project, as opposed to the line to Sacramento, which was the source of profits seen by the Cal-P proprietors.

      Note: Woodland and Knights Landing ranchers and farmers never paid the full $100,000 they pledged. I think they paid about half of that, if memory serves.

      1. Jim Frame

        The town map (H Deeds 242) was recorded on November 24, 1868. The Davis-to-Woodland line was completed — completely built and presumably operational — on September 23, 1869, less than a year after the town map was filed. One doesn’t just “build” a railroad; one starts by identifying a proposed alignment, then surveying it establish the alignment, map the topography and identify the landowners from whom right-of-way must be acquired. Next one designs the plan and profile of the road, and when all these tasks have been completed does construction commence.

        I can’t think of any reason the town’s subdividers (presumably the CPRR) would lay out a valley town 13° or so off cardinal, and not parallel with either portion of the main line from the east or west, or any other topographic feature (like a river), unless the Woodland line was already in the works. In other words, I contend that the alignment of the Woodland line was known prior to the layout of the Davis grid, and was, in fact, the controlling feature of that grid.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          I contend that the alignment of the Woodland line was known prior to the layout of the Davis grid, and was, in fact, the controlling feature of that grid.

          Known? Probably. Controlling? I doubt it.

          The layout of the grid in Davis and just where the streets were platted–north and south and east and west from Front Street to Fourth and from Ash Street to Olive Street–was determined by the purchase of Jerome Davis’s mortgage by the California Pacific Rail Road Corporation. For them, building towns along their route was a real estate investment which they hoped would complement their new tracks.

          If the controlling entity had been a connection to Woodland, then it would have made a lot more sense for the rail line to start 2 miles to the west on Road 100 (where Hwy 113 now is in Davis and where East Street is and was in Woodland). The north-south line did, of course, take that route in the county seat. But in Davis it was positioned in its specific spot due to the ownership of the land and rights 2 miles to the east. That is why the heart of Woodland is north and west of the heart of Davis.

          1. Alan Miller

            In addition, the Woodland line used to run through downtown several blocks to the west of where it runs now, crossing Main near College. One can trace where the original route ran, though it is long faded. The City wanted the line pushed to the edge of town at East Street. Of course, rail relocation was much cheaper a century ago.

  7. Alan Miller

    “Sunday Commentary: Why Rail Relocation Makes Sense For Davis”

    Perhaps the title should be “Why a Tourist Canal System and Sky Blue Water in Putah Creek Makes Sense for Davis” or “Why Separating Bicycles from Cars in Davis by Building Grade Separated Tunnels Under All Major Streets and Bicycle Subways Under Downtown Makes Sense”. All are nine-figure (hundreds of millions) infrastructure projects that would be great for safety and economic development for Davis. And we don’t deserve federal grants of such magnitude for such a purpose. No city does relative to any other city. Yet scoring such a windfall is the goal of the american congressman, and Garamendi is now doing this “for” Yolo County. This is the American way, and it is ruining America. Mega developers fund the campaigns, the congressman brings on the money. Oh thank you kind king and bringer of everybody else’s money to our little berg. We appreciate you stealing from everyone else, for us.

    “In his weekly column last Thursday, City of Davis Chief Innovation Officer Rob White discussed the issue of the grant that will be awarded “for the first tangible step in many years on the Yolo Freight Rail Relocation project.””

    The first of many, many, many steps, over years or decades. At each step a consultant makes a large pile of money, paid for by taxpayers, either local or statewide or nationwide. Even if no dirt is ever turned, many a consultant will get their pockets lined with another contract for a government study of an unlikely project. This is a grant to fund an economic development study. And they will tell us what those that commissioned the study want to hear: that there are all sorts of economic possibilities, think of the possibilities, possibly.

    “In it he noted that the grant from the EDA (Economic Development Administration) will allow the cities of Davis, West Sacramento and Woodland, Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA), which all came together for the first time”

    I doubt they just “came together”. They all see a windfall of federal dollars and they were told to work together as agencies usually are, especially when the state/county sees a windfall on the horizon, and developers promising primrose freebies. This grant is just the first step in federal dollars. Remember: the higher you go in government, the dirtier the dollars. Federal dollars are the dirtiest dollars; i.e., they come with strings, i.e. there is cost to acquire them. Such as City staff time to write grants when they could be doing something useful that will benefit the people of Davis while those people are actually still living.

    “1) flood control (primarily in Woodland and east Davis);”

    Which, if the 25-year flood described is truly a problem, should be addressed post-haste without tying it this multi-decade project. It is the height of insanity to say this is a 25-year flood (which could come next year) and tie it to a rail location that will take decades if the creators of the scam are lucky. That’s about as insane as waiting 25 years to rebuild a bridge over the Bay that replaces a bridge that is not earthquake safe, in the hope there isn’t a big quake and the old bridge falls down and kills everyone on the bridge. In that case they got lucky. Will Yolo be that lucky? Should Yolo County take that gamble so the mega-developers can have their dry dream come true?

    “2) removal of at-grade crossings in Davis, West Sacramento and Woodland; ”

    There is a process for upgrading or grade separating railroad tracks using a state program. It is underfunded, but each year grade crossinsg are improved according to set criteria. It is very unlikely much more improvements would be granted for this purpose on the three lines due to the low train volumes and low accident rates. This cluster project is, among other things, an much more expensive path to circumvent the state process and get a nine-figure bypass of all the crossings. Fine, sort of, but why should Yolo County get such a windfall when there are so many other communities that could use those dollars?

    But just like the lie that Sites Reservoir will produce electricity (as Sites has almost no water source, thus much more electricity will be required to pump the water uphill into the reservoir from the Sacramento River than can ever be produced), the creators of this so-called rail relocation scam are only telling half the story. Though grade crossings will be removed, several new ones will have to be built, at considerable cost, and some may be required to be grade separated. A serious issue is that Road 102 has to be crossed, and I seriously doubt the state Public Utilities Commission will allow that to be an at-grade crossing. If so, that means tens of millions of dollars for this one grade separation alone. This crossing will be perpendicular to a major through road that is subject to dense fog. You do not want people to have the potential to plow into the side of a train from highway speeds in the fog. When I studied the old “spaghetti route” (which has been made to look, or “is”, straighter in the recent report), I counted ten major crossings plus access needed for about two dozens farms and houses, some of which could have clustered access.

    “3) relocation of the 2nd Street switching yard in Davis.”

    A very expensive proposition. Pouring tons of gravel parallel to the tracks east of Mace Blvd., building new rail infrastructure, depending on configuration having to relocate Road 32-A and/or the bike path. I haven’t heard that the interchange track in Davis is some major issue, but I’m sure those promoting this scheme will paint it as such and find people who will complain about it. What isn’t being said is that most people in Davis get used to or even enjoy the sound of trains.

    “For me there are several key issues involving the city of Davis, but a lot of it involves the fact that what worked for the city fifty years ago, when the rail line was on the edge of town rather than running through the middle of town, does not work now.”

    The rail line has always run through the middle of town; that statement doesn’t even make sense. It runs through the middle of town in towns and cities throughout America, many of whom have trains blocking their crossings for dozens of trains a day. But Davis deserves this mass quantity of federal dollars for our couple of trains per day. Yeah, right. As recently as 20+ years ago when the N/S line was a mainline, there were about three times the number of trains there are today, and the through freights that ran then were often in the 100 car range. Thus, we have much less traffic on the N/S line today.

    “Last spring, I highlighted the problem that exists in Davis, given the switching yard location and the at-grade crossings that can block Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Streets for long periods of time as the rail cars simply stop, bisecting portions of old East Davis from the Davis Downtown. How do we have a modern city that wishes to be a leader of innovation in the 21st Century, when trains stop on the tracks, effectively cutting off main east-west travel connectors?”

    David, this last paragraph is disingenuous of you. When you ran this article, I stated to you that it was ridiculous to propose a solution that is twenty years, if ever, out in the future, to solve a problem that is happening now. You agreed, and gave a great testimony before the City council that night after we talked. You seem to have forgotten that.

    If the issue is to solved before we are all dead, the actual problem needs to be addressed, that California Northern handles their trains poorly in Davis. It is not always their fault, but often they block the streets out of lazy operational practices and to save a few dollars. The City should work with them to improve that. Or we could seek hundreds of millions of federal dollars for a project that may never materialize, and see the solution only from inside our caskets.

    “The second reason to do this is that the rail line is taking up valuable land in the core of Davis that could go toward some redevelopment efforts, both of the land and perhaps in conjunction with surrounding properties.”

    That is a leap so many levels. I see rail lines as rail lines, but I guess if you are a mega-developer you see them as wasted land. This right-of-way is 100′ wide at best, and narrower in many places. If this corridor were to open up someday, it would be an alternate transportation corridor. The value and rarity of linear tracts of land inside the core of a city for transportation purposes cannot be overstated. Very few cities are so stupid that they would squander such an asset on infill. I could list dozens, and there are probably hundreds, of examples of cities turning old rail rights-of-way into linear parks and transportation corridors. The area of Davis that doesn’t currently have a bikeway that is completely separated from cars is the core area. Were this to open up, I cannot imagine bicycle friendly Davis allowing the right-of-way to be squandered on so-called infill. The only place I’ve seen that mistake done in recent decades is in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

    However, it is clear that the developers already have their hooks in Davis to infill this valuable linear transportation corridor in their closed-door planning. This was alluded to in Thursday’s article when it was stated that a new bike path could run from north Davis to Woodland. I and I’m sure many others will fight any plans to destroy our valuable transportation corridor from our Amtrak Station to Woodland — by out-of-town mega-developers — with every ounce of fight I have in me.

    “Davis is taking the lead on the economic development studies because we have the most to gain from a realignment of the north-south tracks out of our downtown.”

    This is fabrication. We’d need an economic development study and a crystal ball to know who would have the “most” to gain. Of the cities involved in this three-way circle-J, West Sacramento has at-a-glance far more to gain than the other two, thus why this cluster was born there. In fact, in and of itself, West Sacramento’s is a project worth pursuing. By making a connection to UPRR near the East end of the Yolo Causeway, a large swath of land is opened up while rail service to the port and other industries is retained. The path for the connection for the most part already exists. Of course, that one connection itself is incredibly expensive, which is why West Sacramento hasn’t been able to get it built.

    So . . . . . . . . . . . let’s take a stab at connecting it to flood control and the removal of the Fremont Trestle and convince Woodland and Davis they can get all these benefits too (even though our project is unrelated), inflate the cost ten-fold by tying in all these unrelated projects, get a powerful congressman on board, hire a consultant to conveniently hide the low cost solution to the flood issue and tie all the rail project together as if they are interdependent, and, viola, we have a boondoggle . . . that’s the ticket!

    “The study will focus on the opportunities for economic growth related to increased rail access for agribusiness and industry,”

    I don’t see it. Some industries will lose rail service. Agribusiness requires huge silos or processing facilities, and that’s already built along rail lines. Raw product itself is trucked in the modern day, so moving a rail line a few miles cannot help with raw product. There is plenty of space in Woodland and West Sacramento in their existing industrial parks for rail expansion — this reroute is hardly necessary. The new industrial park in Woodland is already adjacent to a rail line. Davis seems openly hostile to any introduction of industry requiring rail access.
    If the Yolo landfill does a contract for a garbage train (and separately — do we really want to fill our landfill with another town’s garbage? Isn’t that just stealing landfill capacity from our grandchildren for short-term monetary gain?), then building a spur line from Swingle or Merritt should be a well under $10 million project that can be economically justified and paid for partially with private funds or funds of the source municipality. And oh do those garbage trains smell good.

    “redevelopment of urban corridors presently impacted by rail lines, and new sustainable employment.”

    As stated above, there appears to be quid pro quo going on in the closed rooms, that may or may not be smoked filled, that the linear transportation corridors are being sited — by those who stand to gain by appearing to give — as high-profit development sites. As for “new, sustainable” employment, I do not see it, unless this just means the assumption of economic development means an assumption of more jobs and a assumption that they will be “sustainable”, because that’s a nice word to throw in to make the project look good.

    “This is very exciting as our Yolo County communities work together for the betterment of our region,”

    Those are just sort of like, words. If he’s excited, I’m not taking that away from him.

    “It enables us to assess the potential economic benefits and redevelopment opportunities that might result from the removal of the rail barriers currently dividing our cities and downtowns.”

    Already talked about the former. As for the barriers, as I stated at the City Council meeting on the East Covell Corridor last week, the biggest danger of this rail cluster project is people thinking it will happen, or that it means we don’t have to build infrastructure that involves getting around the current rail line. That could mean that, because people are unrealistic and overly confident and overly optimistic about the chances of this project, instead of fighting hard for the Faro Drive overdressing of the railroad tracks, for example, they think, “why bother if the tracks are going to be moved anyway in a few years?” As well, staff time is going to the rail cluster project and less on the Faro overdressing. What we end up with in twenty years, then, is nothing.

    “The grant will also allow us to more thoroughly assess impacts from flooding that might be addressed through rail line relocation in several parts of Yolo County.”

    A flood study has already been done, and concluded that trestle removal needed to be done to lessen flood impact. What if this new study says it does not? As stated over and over because people keep getting it wrong, the flood impacts, if trestle removal is needed, can be mitigated without the rail cluster project.

    “Pursuing a comprehensive analysis of the enhanced economic opportunities that rail realignment may offer will allow us to create solutions that will better our Yolo cities and our region.”

    Just words. Y’know, anytime the federal government opens up and it rains down $100’s of millions, it may offer opportunities and solutions and betterment. Politicians can’t help themselves praising “pennies from heaven”, but I ask you, are they actually “dollars from hell?”. Economic development in my book means you produce or sell a product or service. If stealing from the entire country because “we is specialer than they” is your definition of economic development, congratulations, you are a Democratic, or a Republican.

    “This EDA technical assistance grant will allow Davis, West Sacramento, Woodland and Yolo County to move forward with a project that has the potential to generate significant economic development and jobs and provide numerous other benefits, including increased public safety and flood protection,” said Congressman John Garamendi.”

    At incredible cost, and as stated before, these projects are not related except as they have been lumped into this complex ploy.

    “This project is a great example of regional cooperation”

    I’d call it regional collusion.

    “several government entities coming together to tackle a large economic development project that has the potential to lift the economic prospects of the entire county.”

    That’s a lot of money for something that is decades hence-if-ever and “has potential”. This isn’t like the space program or the super collider where we know what we are going to get. Just a lot a vague “potential”.

    “I commend city and county officials on securing these funds.”

    I don’t commend them, or those who keep them working on this cluster project. City staff in Davis should have been working instead on projects for much shorter-term gain. Gobs of staff time have yet to be wasted on all sorts of reports and hearings and EIRs related to this project cluster. All for a project few or none of us may ever see.

    “I look forward to continuing to partner with them as we build a regional economy that creates opportunities for hardworking Yolo County residents.”

    Sounds like politician speak to me. Words . . . words.

    “There is a bit of pushback coming from the community.”

    I resemble that remark.

    “There seem to be three issues that we should address.”

    Oh, great.

    “First, the north-south rail line is not the point of safety concerns that the oil trains that are moving east-west represent.”

    True-ish, though that should be in the possible-future tense, not present tense.

    “Given the concerns about oil transportation risks, some believe that the city of Davis should be focused on getting a grant and study to divert the east-west hazardous and flammable cargo that runs through Davis.”

    (I don’t know why “some” people keep calling me “some” instead of “Alan C. Miller”.) That wasn’t my point. If oil is transported by rail to northern California, I proposed that a bypass be built around Davis, or better yet all populated areas, for hazardous and flammable rail cars, or better yet that a pipeline carry the oil the final 125 miles so oil trains do not pass through any cities or towns in California at all. My point was that it’s notable that politicians are expounding to move a little-used rail line using mega-taxpayer dollars to benefit a few mega-developers and some vague possibilities, instead of expounding to build a bypass on our main line to mitigate a very real threat.

    “it was ironic because the location on the rail line “was a primary driver in the founding of Davis(ville).””

    That’s a nice historical fact . . . just like thousands of other towns.

    “ . . . the east-west line now serves both commuter and freight rail needs,”

    True fact.

    “and there is currently no financial driver that would help pay for that (expensive) relocation.”

    I see. So my proposed “relocation” is “(expensive)”, and that the other one is. . . ? I never proposed a relocation of the E/W mainline. I proposed a bypass for hazardous/flammable material train. While the full project I proposed is more expensive due to its length (125 miles to miss all population centers in northern California), a shorter bypass to go around just Davis and Dixon would be about the same length and roughly similar cost to the so-called rail relocation as a whole. I would call not incinerating our downtown a financial driver.

    “Whereas discussions on the north-south line have seen early indications of willingness for relocation,”

    ‘early indications of willingness’: there’s some linguistic line dancing.

    “and the financial drivers that would reasonably pay for the project (without requiring the cities or the county to carry the burden) have become aligned.”

    ‘financial drivers’ means there are people who are willing to put up some big money and in return will make a killing, but the specifics have to remain secret now, or the public might start attacking the plan once the public has the specifics to attack, and that could threaten the federal money. So ‘sssssh!’

    “These financial drivers are borne by significant flood control improvements”

    Federal money en masse. Better to do cheaper and faster than get tied up in this cluster project.

    “new connections for commerce for our county’s industrial areas”

    The old connections work just fine, and new ones for flood control could be done for a fraction of the cost of the so-called ‘rail relocation’.

    “and better rail service to our region’s ag industries and food processing.””
    ‘Better’ in railroad terms is car transit time, in this case to the next railroad connection. I see no way that the proposed rail-relocation will get cars to UPRR any faster than the current method. There may be a way to speed up the interchange, but it would work with the current track configuration as well.

    “But, more importantly, the project produces “collaboration of the five major public agencies”

    Public agencies collaborate when they are told to collaborate.

    “and we have willing railroad operators”

    Sierra Northern of course because they have much to gain by having any pennies from heaven slip through their tiny railroad’s fingers. CalNorthern doesn’t have lot to gain and gains a longer route, but I’m sure that could be enticed with enough federal dollars

    I have worked with and dealt with UPRR on numerous issues in the last few decades. There is an unwritten policy at UPRR that, most especially in California, if there are major capital projects to be done to the railroad, UPRR has the state pay for them, because California does, pay. After all the issues between UPRR and the City of Davis over the last several years, suddenly they are our friends? You can bet that anything UPRR OKs for this project is going to be greatly to their advantage monetarily. Nothing comes cheap with UPRR. I have great respect for UPRR. They are always for the bottom line, always firm, and always consistent. And they own the N/S right of way. They may have a representative in the room saying nice things, but wait until their real estate team and their finance team and their engineer team gets involved and puts their demands on the project. Ka-ching.

    “and landowners in the discussion.”

    As for the one big landowner, deeding away his land, a preserve that is part of the Pacific Flyway, for free, to Yolo County, is unlikely to really be “free”. There is no free lunch, or free land.

    “Why wouldn’t we want to assess this opportunity?””

    Because that costs money (even if it will be “reimbursed” by the taxpayers of America) and wastes valuable staff time that could be used on solutions that will occur in our lifetimes.

    “The key here, of course, is “assess.” While it can sometimes become a synonym for “do,” in this case, assessing will address both the costs and benefits of doing.”

    But not the cost of assessing (see above). Addresses the assess. Do be do be do.

    “Finally, and I’m a little disappointed that Rob White did not lay this out more explicitly,”

    The most effective strategy for building a mega-project are to keep the details as vague as possible. Thus the group in the closed room with the vague route and vague benefits and vague costs.

    “there are two huge benefits for Davis – ”

    Huge.

    “one is not bisecting the city with trains that block traffic,”

    Decades from now . . . we’ve been over this already, haven’t we?

    “and the other is opening up the area to economic development in the downtown.”

    We’ve been over this one, too. That linear corridor is not going to be developed, hence, no economic development in Davis from this.

    “It would be helpful to see how much acreage we are talking about,”

    Google maps and a ruler would get you close; and I believe an earlier thread had some estimates.

    “and what can be done in terms of economic development”

    First you’ll have to pry that beautiful, linear transportation corridor out of my cold, dead hands.

    “– yes, it is preliminary, but giving the community a vision of the possible might get some excited about the prospects.”

    As I stated before, stop calling me “some”. Oh, this is a different “some”. “some” is so excited. And there was much rejoicing. As for preliminary prospects, the great thing about preliminary for cluster project backers is they can promise each party whatever they want to hear: “you get a redevelopment project!” — and “you get bike path!”.

    “My final point here is that this is an early step and we need vigorous discussion about the upsides and downsides to moving the north-south rail out of town.”

    We certainly need more discussion about the downsides. All we get from the cheerleaders of this scam is vague upsides. Some more downsides (costs): lawsuits, toxic soil and water cleanup, UPRR unknown costs, grade crossing requirements from the CPUC, land acquisition issues, moving isolated businesses, environmental mitigations, cost overruns. The whole project just to build the rail portions is north of $100 million; the full costs are . . . sky’s the limit. Even this next consulting report will only scratch the surface of answering these questions.

    Will all of this really be “free federal money” for Yolo County?

    Is free ever really free?

    “—David M. Greenwald reporting”

    Sort of.

    Note: lest anyone paint me a no-growther, I voted for Covell-Village, support building a peripheral business park, support the Nishi project, support the convention center, and voted against both propositions J and R.

    1. South of Davis

      Alan:

      Thanks for such a great detailed post.

      P.S. While I would love to be able to ride a “rail to trail” bike path to Woodland I know it will not happen in my lifetime and for those that worry about a “train through the middle of town” it has not hurt property values or economic growth in San Mateo, Palo Alto or any of the other cities on the SF Peninsula.

  8. Alan Miller

    “If you’re going to put this much time into a response, why not just submit an op-ed of your own?”

    I was responding to what was said in the article. Turned out pretty much all that was said. Didn’t start out that way. Also, most of my comments on the subject the last few days were lost to the ether.

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