It had been a decade since Petaluma heard the clickety-clack of trains rumbling down the tracks, but that changed this week when freight service resumed.
This is good news for businesses such as Hunt & Behrens, Dairyman's Feed & Supply and Petaluma Poultry, which have been feeling the strain of rising feed transport costs.
The North Coast Railroad Authority is ready to let the trains roll through town. The final obstacle to freight service was cleared Tuesday night when the Novato City Council approved a revision to a court-approved agreement between the city and the Railroad Authority by a 3-2 vote.
Freight trains come to Petaluma
According to Novato City Council Member Carole Dillon-Knutson, the revisions included welded track from Highway 37 to the Novato Creek Bridge, a speed limit of 25 mph through town and use of a quieter, clean-burning engine through Novato. The quieter welded tracks do not have to be in place until 2013.
Dillon-Knutson, along with Novato Council Member Pat Eklund, voted against the revision. "They (NCRA offcials) are not symphathetic or respectful of our citizens and the changes in the quality of life the train will bring," Dillon-Knutson said.
Novato Mayor Madeline Kellner and Council Members Denise Athas and Jeanne MacLeamy voted to approve the revised agreement.
According to Mitch Stogner, executive director of the NCRA, the Novato City Council's approval was the last item needed in order for the trains to start running through Sonoma County.
The NCRA leases the tracks to a private short-haul rail operator, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co. The trains will be used to haul feed grains, wood products, building materials, wine and other merchandise between Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties. Trains will only run during daylight hours and make one round-trip on the line, three days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Hunt & Behrens, Dairyman's Feed & Supply and Petaluma Poultry recently signed on with NWP to use freight service. Hunt & Behrens was the first in line to receive a train pulling five carloads of grain early Wednesday morning.
"It costs us $15 a ton to ship by feed truck and we'll be saving half of that with freight service," said Bob Falco, co-owner of Hunt & Behrens on Lakeville Street. "It's a huge savings for us, and that means a savings for our customers. Plus it means eliminating trucks on the roads and them sitting in traffic."