Lost railroads of Humboldt County

Discussion in 'Freight, International and Other Rail' started by Matthew H Fish, Jul 20, 2019.

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  1. Jul 20, 2019 #1

    Matthew H Fish

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    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

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    I have been staying in Humboldt County the past few weeks, and I have seen a lot of old rail lines. They very certainly look like they are no longer in use:

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    Some explanation of where Humboldt County is might make all these pictures make more sense. Humboldt County is about 220 miles north of San Francisco in linear miles, and is currently 300 miles north in highway miles. The terrain in-between is pretty rough. The hills aren't that high, but due to the heavy rain, there are some heavy forests, some fast rivers, and lots of landslides. In the early days of European settlement, the area was looking like it might be much larger. Logging and timber were big business, and the bay was the best harbor between San Francisco and Coos Bay, Oregon. So despite the challenges of terrain, the late 19th century and early 20th century saw railroads between San Francisco and Eureka, California. However, as in many places in the West, the natural resources economy reached its limit, and the railroads couldn't be maintained. (Or, at least, weren't maintained---of course they probably could have been). Much of the rail network has been literally overgrown. Some of it has been converted to trails. Some of it still *looks* like it could function.

    It is somewhat ironic that in the very early 20th century (1906-1914), using the technology and engineering of the early 20th century, a railroad could be built over challenging terrain, but that in 2019, rail service to a place like Eureka, California would seem impossible. The proposals to remake a rail line have seemed...dubious. Here is a newspaper article about one such attempt:

    https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2018/sep/12/latest-east-west-rail-scheme-most-grandiose-yet-it/


    Arcata and Eureka both still have Amtrak service, but it is a connecting Thruway bus that goes to Martinez. Due to the rough terrain, if you wish to go north from Arcata/Eureka, you have to go 300 miles south to Martinez, before heading northwards on the Coast Starlight. This is the Arcata Transit Center, the current "Train Station" in Arcata. I will be taking this Amtrak trip northwards next week, which I will give a report of.

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  2. Jul 20, 2019 #2

    dlagrua

    dlagrua

    dlagrua

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    Ever since NAFTA and GATT agreements were put into law, numerous small towns in all states no longer have rail service. Sadly it's no longer needed as manufacturing is now located overseas.
     
  3. Jul 20, 2019 #3

    Metra Electric Rider

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    Metra Electric Rider

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    Lots of logging railroads, narrow gauge, throughout the forested west. Most as I understand it were never meant to be more than temporary, but have left some impressive remnants (highest rail bridge on the Olympic Peninsula for example). There is still some RR service in coastal Oregon, but the mountains there are a bit less rugged and there is a bit more agriculture on the coast than in CA.
     
  4. Jul 22, 2019 #4

    Eric S

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    Eric S

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    Rail mileage in the US peaked around World War I, decades before NAFTA or GATT could have had any effect. If anything, abandonments have slowed since NAFTA (not that I necessarily think the two are connected).
     
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  5. Jul 25, 2019 #5

    Matthew H Fish

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    Matthew H Fish

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    Yeah, while there are a lot of factors at play, the Humboldt Bay region's failure to become a major industrial center predates anything related to NAFTA. It grew slowly but steadily through the early 20th century, grew explosively after World War II, then had a population decline between 1960 and 1970, and then has been growing slowly and steadily since then.

    As far as its transportation, it is something that has to kind of be seen to be understood. I could heap adjectives on to it, but that really wouldn't explain. But if you were to drive the 210+ miles on 101 between Santa Rosa and Eureka, it would be apparent why the area had problems with transportation.
     

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