North Coast Journal, Wednesday March 28, 2002

Is railroad suitor for real?

An Illinois developer has expressed an interest in buying some of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line -- but his desire may be hard to realize.

Ted Niemeyer of Wonderlake, Ill., appeared before the board of the North Coast Railroad Authority March 20 to discuss the possibility of acquiring all or portions of the Northwestern Pacific corridor.

It remains unclear what Niemeyer is interested in buying, said Max Bridges, executive officer for the NCRA.

"We did not get a lot of details, other than that he was interested in purchasing all or a portion of the line," Bridges said.

Purchasing the railroad line could be problematic. It is owned by several public entities, including Marin County, the NCRA, the Northwestern Railroad Authority and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. Ownership of the southern end of the line is in flux, as recently introduced legislation would create a Sonoma-Marin rail district to consolidate ownership.

The Northern end of the line (from Healdsburg north) is owned entirely by the NCRA, so purchasing this section of line would be simpler. Niemeyer suggested as much at the March 20 meeting, according to a March 25 NCRA press release.

"His [Niemeyer's] first public statements were about taking over the entire line, but his latest statements seem to indicate that he may only be interested in acquiring the line from Willits north," said NCRA board chairman Dave Ripple.

But even if only the northern end of the line were bought, serious questions remain. How would Niemeyer find the funding to rehabilitate the line? Would legislation be required to authorize a sale? How would he run a railroad line that many feel will require continued subsidy?

"I can't get a fix on exactly what Niemeyer does want," Ripple said in the press release. "The only thing that seems certain is that Niemeyer feels strongly that he can raise large sums of money to take over all or part of the North Coast rail corridor."