Times-Standard    Sunday, March 2, 2001

The Railroad Benefits All Business
By J Warren Hockaday

Much has been written lately about the effort to restore rail service to the region. It has become an incredibly complex process involving layer upon layer of regulatory and bureaucratic oversight. As the proponents of the rail strive to make progress, the need for broad-based public support is critical.

There are those who will say that with the economy in transition, away from the traditional industries, the need for rail service is not as pronounced as it was 10 years ago. While that may be partially true, the analysis falls short in anticipating the future needs of the region. With the higher relative costs of highway transport for products and materials, the restoration of the rail resource will have significant and tangible benefits for local shippers in the short and long term.

As it is now, Humboldt is one of only three counties in the state which cannot accommodate long trucks. The consequence is that shippers and receivers pay higher transportation costs due to the need to transship cargos off of and onto the larger trucks.

Of equal significance is the very real advantage that will exist once the railroad is back in place for businesses and industries seeking to relocate and expand. In the past few years several large manufacturers have looked very closely at the Humboldt Bay area as a place to do business. The two most meaningful infrastructure attractions are the recently deepened port and the potential for restored rail service.

One of the key factors is the port facility. It sets this region apart from others hoping to attract the attention of relocating businesses. However, the port is dependent on the availability of rail service to realize its potential in terms of cargo diversification and expansion.

Thus, the rail represents a critical component in the overall ability to offer viable shipping options for both new and existing businesses. With a deep water port and a railroad, this region will enjoy a competitive edge over other locations seeking to attract new business. With that marketing advantage the probability for new jobs and a stronger economy becomes all the more realistic.

Some have said that the only industries which will benefit from rail service are timber companies and gravel shippers. But as the economy diversifies and grows, the rail offers a unique opportunity that will have a positive impact on all North Coast business.

Given the bureaucratic complexities, the myriad of details, an abundance of near-incomprehensible acronyms and an exceedingly slow process, some have become detached from the effort. Instead, they leave it to our representatives on the North Coast Railroad Authority and elected officials to continue the battle. Recent skirmishes among some of the players have underscored the need to present visible local support. Thanks to the efforts and diligence of our representatives, the process is moving forward. It is only through demonstrated public and business support that they will enjoy the best chance of success.

J Warren Hockaday is the executive director of the Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce.