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Northwestern Pacific (NWP)

The California Western Railroad (CWR) was built as a logging railroad. However, when the Northwestern Pacific reached Willits from the Bay area it became clear to C.R. Johnson (the owner of the Union Lumber Company (ULC) in Fort Bragg which, back then, owned the CWR) that it made economic sense to link the logging railroad from his Union Lumber Company mill in Fort Bragg which ran to Northspur onward to Willits and run passenger trains on the route.

Santa Fe and Southern Pacific (SP) created Northwestern Pacific (NWP) as a jointly owned company in 1907 from six short lines stretching from Lombard in Napa County, California to near Eureka on the pacific coast of Northern California. At its height the NWP had some 300 miles of track. In 1929 SP became sole owner. SP began spinning pieces off in 1984.

The line and volume of traffic declined over the years. The public North Coast Rail Authority was created in 1989 to revitalise the line and it purchased the right-of-way in several stages through the years. An independent NWP operated the line by contract in this period. In 1989 a series of devastating storms flooded the Eel river to record heights effectively destroying the line between Willits and Eureka forcing its closure. Further storms and subsidence closed the section from Willits south to Petaluma. In February 2001, after repairs, the NWP resumed operations south of Petaluma. However, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) declared the track unfit for traffic in October 2001 and operations ceased.

For the next ten years funding sources came and went as the interested bodies failed to agree on what to do. In 2006, the California Transit Commission approved the first repair funds and in 2008 after court challenges repair work began. Part of the settlement was for the NWP to use low-emission genset diesel locomotives – one of these can be seen in the movie.

In the summer of 2009 work trains began to bring the track up to FRA specifications. On May 5 of this year (2012) the FRA approved operations of NWP Co. (a newly formed independent freight shortline) on the 62 miles south of Windsor.

Funds are being sort to re-open the 77 miles from Windsor to Willits. North of Willits the devastation to the line in the rugged Eel River Canyon probably means the end of the line from Willits to Eureka forever.

On July 8th (2012) a NWP Co. freight train departed Schellville near Lomard westbound with traffic for industries along the North Coast Railroad Authority’s route to Petaluma. It was the first time in a decade that a freight train for paying customers had traversed the route. As you can see from the movie below happy residents stood along the route to cheer the train on. NWP live on – may you one day reach Willits and connect with the CWR again.