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Ding-Dong the Coal Train is (probably) Dead

Wow, it has been a whirlwind of a year! 

Here’s today’s breaking news: the Surface Transportation Board just REJECTED the North Coast Railroad Company’s late-filed notice of intent to file an Offer of Financial Assistance and restore freight travel on the line. Although this shadowy coal company may still appeal the ruling (which is unlikely), we can all breathe a little easier now and into the future.

Mendocino Railroad, aka the Skunk Train, still intends to submit an Offer to take over a 13-mile segment of the right of way. This poses a threat to the Great Redwood Trail, as well as sensitive salmonid habitat in the mainstem Eel River and Outlet Creek. And we frankly have concerns about Mendocino Railroad’s lack of honesty and transparent communications.

While any train running along the geologically fragile Eel River is a terrible idea, we are celebrating today that it will NOT be a coal train. And it is supporters like you, who quickly mounted strong opposition, that we can thank for this victory. So on behalf of our rivers and forests, our fish and wildlife, and our future generations, THANK YOU!


What Happened

A timeline of STB filings and the wild ride over the last 12 months.

NCRA Applies for Railbanking May 2021
The North Coast Railroad Authority applied to railbank 175 miles of rail line from Willits to just north of Arcata. 

Railbanking Held in Abeyance June 2021
The Surface Transportation Board paused the railbanking process while it decided whether two small segments of the line had in fact been previously abandoned, and whether to proceed with the OFA process.

Initial Filing from Mendocino Railway July 2021
Mendocino Railway first came into the picture with this filing in July 2021 in which they support the abeyance. They also describe their intent to bring an OFA for “all or a portion of the line” and clearly state that “if an OFA is brought for all or a portion of the rail line there, will be no trails”.

NCRA Requests Exemption from OFAs July 2021
In part due to the threats presented in Mendocino Railway’s filing, the NCRA made a motion for exemption from the OFA process. 

Initial Filing from North Coast Railroad Company LLC August 2021
This filing from the mysterious North Coast Railroad Company LLC is what prompted us to switch from simply supporting the Great Redwood Trail to protecting our communities from a potential coal train. The NCRCo LLC filing expressed their intent to eventually submit an OFA, and is filled with what we now know to be lies about being “capitalized to the tune of $1.2 billion” and to have “thoroughly developed plans”.

Extensive Media Coverage Helped Illuminate Coal Train Concerns Sept – Oct 2021
Click here to see a comprehensive list of the excellent reporting by reporters from California to Utah. 

STB Issues Three Rulings May 17 – 23, 2022
After months of waiting the Surface Transportation Board suddenly issued a several decisions:
1) Decided that two segments at question have previously been abandoned, which complicates planning for the Annie and Mary Trail;
2) Opened the window for notices of intent to file OFAs; and
3) Published corrected draft environmental assessment.

Notices of Intent to Submit OFAs May 31 – June 1, 2022
Three notices of intent to submit OFAs were filed with the STB: one from Mendocino Railway for a 13-mile segment from Willits to Dos Rios; another from “Seeker Enterprises” which did not meet the threshold for financial viability; and a late-filed notice from the North Coast Railroad Company LLC for the entire line.

A flurry of opposition to those notices came in from members of this coalition, the Great Redwood Trail Agency, and local municipalities. Many of those same entities, as well as Congressman Huffman, Senator McGuire, and other elected officials, also issued statements of support for the Great Redwood Trail Agency’s request to reject OFAs. 

STB Rejects 2 of 3 Notices of OFAs May 10, 2022
With the coal train and a railbike proposal out of the way, we are left to address the Skunk Train’s interest in running a train through sensitive salmonid habitat along Outlet Creek, bisecting the Great Redwood Trail at the southern end of the Eel River Canyon. This isn’t over until boots hit the Great Redwood Trail!