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Ruling postponed on Novato's bid to kill NCRA railroad repairs

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  • 1/8 Santa Rosa Press
    Published Tuesday, January 8, 2008, by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat Judge postpones freight train ruling By Steve Hart The Press Democrat A Marin County judge
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 9, 2008
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      Published Tuesday, January 8, 2008, by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

      Judge postpones freight train ruling

      By Steve Hart
      The Press Democrat

      A Marin County judge on Tuesday postponed a final ruling on Novato's
      bid to stall the return of freight trains to Sonoma, Marin and Napa
      counties.

      After a two-hour hearing, Superior Court Judge James Ritchie said
      he'll take more time to consider the arguments of Novato and the
      North Coast Railroad Authority.

      Novato asked the judge last year for a preliminary injunction halting
      repair work on a 62-mile stretch of railroad between Napa and Windsor
      until NCRA expands its environmental study of the project.

      In a tentative ruling Monday, the judge indicated he would grant
      Novato's request because NCRA didn't follow California's
      environmental law.

      On Tuesday, rail attorneys said the $50 million repair project is
      exempt from the requirement for an environmental impact report
      because it doesn't expand the railroad.

      "I don't think anyone can make the case that the work we are doing is
      harmful to the environment," said Doug Bosco, attorney for NWP Co.,
      the railroad's private operator.


      Published Tuesday, January 8, 2008, by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

      North Coast rail freight sidetracked

      Judge's preliminary ruling calls for completed environmental study
      before repairs are made

      By Steve Hart
      The Press Democrat

      In a tentative ruling that could stall North Bay freight service, a
      Marin County judge on Monday said the North Coast Railroad Authority
      can't operate trains until it expands its environmental study.

      Superior Court Judge James Ritchie indicated he will grant the city
      of Novato's request for a preliminary injunction against the
      railroad. The ruling would halt further repair work on the southern
      end of the line.

      "This could significantly delay the startup of freight," said Mike
      Arnold of Marin Citizens for Effective Transportation, a group that
      opposes passenger trains on the route.

      Ritchie will hold a court hearing on the issue this morning, and he
      could modify the decision.

      Mitch Stogner, NCRA's executive director, said Monday he hadn't seen
      the judge's tentative ruling.

      Doug Bosco, an attorney for NWP Co., the private company that plans
      to operate the trains, said it's too soon to say how the tentative
      ruling will affect service. But he said it appears the judge wants
      NCRA to include repairs in its environmental study.

      "There's a lot at stake in this decision," he said.

      The public rail authority wants to resume freight service on 62 miles
      of track in Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties next July after it
      completes $50 million in repairs to the south end of the Northwestern
      Pacific Railroad.

      Novato sued to halt the project, saying NCRA didn't consider
      environmental impacts of reopening the entire 300-mile route between
      Napa and Eureka. NCRA plans to eventually restore freight service to
      Eureka, but there's no timeline for the project north of Willits.

      Novato officials said the city is concerned about noise, emissions,
      traffic congestion and public safety.

      Monday's ruling did not examine the merits of plans to resume freight
      service.

      "The court has not reached any conclusion as to whether the proposed
      railway is appropriate or not," Ritchie wrote in his ruling. "The
      court has concluded that the pending environmental analysis should be
      conducted and considered before more work is done."

      NCRA is working on an environmental study of freight operations on
      the south end of the line, but it won't be finished until later this
      year. Meanwhile, it is proceeding with repairs to bridges, signal
      crossings and railbed on the 62-mile stretch.

      The judge's ruling would halt any railroad repair work that started
      after Oct. 15, when Ritchie held an earlier hearing on the issue.

      NCRA had argued it was exempt from the need for an environmental
      report on repairs of existing track.

      The judge ruled the agency appears to have violated state law by
      starting repair work without finishing the required environmental
      review.

      He also indicated the review must consider the entire project from
      Napa to Eureka.

      Freight service was halted in 2001 after federal railway regulators
      ruled the route was unsafe. NCRA said the trains are needed to serve
      shippers and reduce truck traffic on Highway 101.

      You can reach Staff Writer Steve Hart at 707-521-5205 or
      steve.hart@...
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