Sen. Mike McGuire’s “Stop the Toxic Train” town hall meeting last night began on a triumphant note. The interests backing the titular train had declined to file their paperwork with the federal Surface Transportation Board by the May 31 deadline, McGuire announced, and he was ready to pronounce it kaput.

“We have beat back big coal and the toxic train,” McGuire said. “This is amazing news. This is late-breaking from the federal government tonight.”

Excerpt from Sen. Mike McGuire’s “Stop the Toxic Train” online Town Hall meeting last night. Full video available on Facebook at this link.

But McGuire spoke too soon.

In fact, earlier in the day the North Coast Railroad Company LLC — the shell company representing the obscure interests who hope to snatch the defunct rail line from the public — had, in fact, filed its Surface Transportation Board paperwork. They were a day late, but they hope the STB will overlook that.

They explain: 

NCRCo requests leave to late file this notice of intent on the basis that its counsel was unavailable to complete the filing on May 31, 2022, due to unforeseen vacation travel delays and related issues associated with securing the information necessary to submit this notice of intent. Counsel is very mindful of the Board’s strict regulations related to the OFA process, but urges acceptance of its NCRCo’s submission under these circumstances on the basis that no party will be prejudiced thereby.

The future of the Great Redwood Trail, the McGuire-backed state initiative to railbank the 300-mile rail line from the Bay Area to Humboldt County, and to build pedestrian and hiking trails along the state-owned right-of-way, may well hinge upon whether or not the Surface Transportation Board accepts this dog-ate-my-homework excuse.

Will it fly? Scott Greacen of Friends of the Eel told the Outpost that he is operating under the assumption that that the Surface Transportation Board will grant the coal train clemency.

“Unfortunately, my sense is that their late filing won’t be enough reason for the STB to reject it,” he said. “But it should be, because this thing will be an unholy mess for the board to face, and they should take this opportunity to punt it.”

(As this story was about to be published, McGuire’s office issued a statement on the matter. It’s reproduced below.)

Three other entities notified the Surface Transportation Board of their intent to file their own offers of financial assistance to take over portions of the right-of-way. One was Mendocino Railway, owner of the Skunk Train, which said it wants to take over the tracks between Willits and a point about 15 rail-miles north of Willits, for purposes unspecified.

The Samoa-based, nonprofit Timber Heritage Association, which occasionally runs small “speeder” trains in Eureka and the Samoa Peninsula, told the STB that it would like to own the tracks around Humboldt Bay, presumably to continue such operations. The association notes that if its bid is successful, it would continue to allow trail-building alongside its right-of-way.

The final notice came from Arcata resident and frequent LoCO commenter Uri Driscoll, operating under the name “Seeker Enterprises.” Driscoll told the STB that he would like to buy much of the railroad line around Humboldt Bay in order to run a business that would offer pedal-powered rail excursions along that line. He told the STB that he had secured a $200,000 line of credit on his home to finance the costs of assuming that stretch of the line, and also offered up his retirement account as collateral.

The full “offers of assistance,” which should contain much more detailed proposals from each of these entities, will be made public in the coming weeks – unless, that is, the Surface Transportation Board sticks firm to its May 31 deadline and rules the coal train interests’ application too late. At that point, the STB will made determinations on whether any or all of the remaining proposals are viable. If they are, the board is bound by law deny the state’s bid to railbank the line, and to allow the viable railroad operator to take over.

Stay tuned.




From the office of Sen. Mike McGuire:

In late breaking developments, the North Coast Railroad Company, which is privately held by coal interests based out of Wyoming, has filed a late petition with the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to ship millions of tons of coal from Utah, Wyoming and Montana to Asia through the Port of Humboldt.

The truth is: they missed the federal regulator’s deadline. Big Coal missed a crucial application deadline on Tuesday, effectively killing this terrible project. But as the North Coast was celebrating, Big Coal’s attorneys were plotting and working furiously to sidestep the rules and resurrect their dangerous proposal.

“We are flabbergasted and appalled that Big Coal thinks they can play by their own rules. Like a zombie rising from the dead, the Toxic Coal Train is back. The bottom line is this: Our communities are united in our response – ‘Hell No to Coal!’,” said Senator Mike McGuire, who along with Congressman Huffman is leading the opposition to the dangerous proposal.

“First off, there hasn’t been a freight operation for over 25 years on this line because it’s simply not financially feasible. Second, there is no way in hell any rail outfit in this nation has the billions it will take to improve this dilapidated infrastructure that’s literally falling into the Eel River.”

“Our ongoing state and federal efforts, together with strong community opposition, will continue unabated,” said McGuire. “We will stop this toxic train dead in its tracks once and for all.”