Bringing back Petaluma's historic trestle
Grant jump-starts efforts to restore rail line along downtown waterfront
Published: Friday, November 26, 2010 at 5:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 26, 2010 at 5:12 p.m.
The rotted plywood and railroad ties lie forsaken along Petaluma's waterfront train trestle. Pedestrians are warned of danger ahead.
For years, the Water Street trestle has essentially been abandoned. Trains haven't run on it since 1994, when the trestle was closed to freight locomotives. Five years later, it was fenced off as a safety hazard.
But a $475,000 grant has brought new life to an effort to restore the romantic piece of Petaluma's heritage. The state Coastal Conservancy grant will fund the analysis and engineering designs for a rehab of the 1922 structure.
“Restoring the trestle has been Petaluma's biggest stumbling block to getting the city to turn around and face the river,” said Chris Stevick, director of the nonprofit Petaluma Trolley Living History Railway Museum. “The trestle and our historic trolley contribute significantly to developing Petaluma's downtown potential.”
The 500-foot trestle, which runs along the Petaluma River behind businesses that front Petaluma Boulevard North, symbolizes Petaluma's history as a Sonoma County shipping corridor.
It was once part of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad, one of several local lines that carried passengers and goods such as eggs, apples and hay.
At one point, the electric trolley system had 200 cars running 10,000 carloads of freight and 250,000 passengers annually from as far away as Forestville, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.
But in recent years it has been ignored, a rotting rail line people walked around to get to somewhere else.
Since 1998, trolley enthusiasts have worked to preserve and refurbish the Water Street trestle — to make it a cultural destination for Petalumans and tourists.
Varying plans to restore, shore up or even destroy it have been considered. Funding was always the biggest barrier, with estimates of as much as $5.5 million to restart rail service.
“It took a lot of hard work amongst a group of people who had a positive vision for what a focal point this trestle can be,” said Mayor Pam Torliatt, who helped secure the grant.
The trestle is owned by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district. With the city of Petaluma, it will provide $25,000 in staff time to complete the design, said Deborah Hirst of the Coastal Conservancy.
Work could begin as early as January on a rehabilitation plan, which could take as long as two years to complete. The grant will pay for analysis, engineering, construction plans and permits for rehabilitation work.
The design is also expected to include plans for a potential return of the historic trolley, and add bicycle and pedestrian access to the trestle as part of the Petaluma River Trail.
Petaluma Trolley museum leaders hope the trestle improvements will be the first step in their six-phase plan to restore trolley service on a three-mile stretch of rail from downtown to the Petaluma Premium Factory Outlets.
“The romance is a part of it,” said museum President Lauren Williams. “But for a town like Petaluma, it's easy to bask in its past glory as we settle into our modern lives. We are hoping to make Petaluma an exciting place to be, to do business and to visit.”
As the street-facing Theater District has sparked new energy in downtown, the riverside trestle behind it has continued to deteriorate, becoming an eyesore and a liability, he and Stevick said.
Stevick hopes the infusion of money will be a catalyst to returning the railway to its rightful place in Petaluma's economy.
“Petaluma wrapped itself around its river and rail connection for economic vitality,” he said, “and by restoring this, we are doing it again.”
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