The Times-Standard Sunday, June 16, 2002
Authority should have equal parts faith and doubt for railroad suitor
The Chicago-area railman who wants to buy the North Coast railroad portends to be a miracle worker when he says he'll have the line open within a year. But let's face it, miracles may be the best bet for the stretch of track that now lies under rubble in the Eel River Canyon. Ted Niemeyer of Niemeyer and Associates has come through with a proposal to buy the line to operate it, with help, he says, from God above.
He'll need it.
Resurrecting the railroad from its four-year entombment may well take an act of God. At the very least it will take cunning and a team that knows its stuff, which it appears Niemeyer has. While his initial, informal pitch was rejected out of hand, and afterword cautiously accepted as a possibility, this time his more formal proposal was greeted with somewhat more open arms. Several issues, environmental, political and financial, remain unaddressed. But Niemeyer threw in a bone: If he can't get the rail on line in a year, he'll give it back to the North Coast Railroad Authority.
To which we say, shouldn't we let him try? Progress so far has been maddeningly slow. It's no secret that in general, private industry can get things done in much shorter order than a public group. To have Niemeyer's team working full time on the issue could be a boon to the seemingly unending process -- even if he doesn't open the line within a year.
Railroad authority officials are right to be cautious and some tough questions remain to be asked -- and answered. The most crucial among them is whether the railroad authority even has the right to sell the line. One just can't dismiss the idea out of hand, and we're pleased to see it hasn't been. A railroad to Humboldt Bay could be a great thing for our struggling economy, and any chance to get it up and running should be thoroughly explored.
No matter the course, it will not prove easy or cheap. It might not prove possible at all. Our enthusiasm for the project has begun to wane, but perhaps new blood could solidify a vision for the railroad. Is it significantly more drastic to say the line can be opened at all than it is for Niemeyer to think he can do it in a year?
We urge the authority to work closely with this railroad suitor at least long enough to make abundantly sure that he can't do what nearly everyone else seems to say can't be done.