If you have been surprised by trains passing through Petaluma in recent months, get used to it. It's a sight that will become much more familiar as freight rail service resumes in April after more than a decade-long break.
By mid-April, freight trains carrying wine, animal feed, construction materials and other goods are expected to start running the 62-mile Northwestern Pacific Railroad route between Napa and Windsor.
While freight rail service will return next month, SMART rails are set to come through town in 2014 on the same tracks. In anticipation of both services starting up, city workers have been busy making sure the tracks and crossings are safe and the public is prepared.
Freight trains coming to Petaluma
This railroad crossing on Lakeville Street is one of eight crossings in Petaluma. Freight trains will start rolling through Petaluma in April 2011 for the first time since 1998. Terry Hankins
A North Coast Railroad Authority freight train travels along the 62-mile route between Napa and Windsor. North Coast Railroad Authority
11/1/2009:E1: A freight train runs along the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line near Infineon Raceway in 2001. Sonoma County has not had regular freight service since 1998.
5/6/2009:b9: A freight train runs along the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line north of Highway 37 near Infineon Raceway. Sonoma County has not had freight service since 2001.
2/15/2001: E1-C: A freight train runs along the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line north of Highway 37 near Sears Point Raceway on Wednesday afternoon. It was the first time freight has been transported on the line since service stopped in 1998.
PC: A freight train runs along the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line north of Highway 37 near Sears Point Raceway on Wednesday afternoon. It was the first time freight has been transported on the line since service stopped in 1998. cc0214_NWP_Freight.jpg
The correct distance between rails is checked after new ties are installed in March 2009, as part of the tie program upgrading the Schellville "Y" track. Freight rail service is set to resume in Sonoma County in April 2011.
Aronoff Mark Aronoff/The Press Democrat
Piles of old ties were to be recycled following their removal from the ground as part of the tie program upgrading the Schellville "Y" track in March 2009 in Sonoma. Freight rail service is set to resume in Sonoma County in April 2011. Mark Aronoff/The Press Democrat
Allan Hemphill, shown in this 2006 photo, is the chairman of the North Coast Railroad Authority, which is contracting with a company to operate freight trains on the old Northwestern Pacific rail line. Jeff Kan Lee/The Press Democrat
Railroad tracks near the Petaluma Visitors Center on Lakeville Street. Terry Hankins
Dave Anderson, project manager for the North Coast Railroad Authority, examines a section of the Northwest Pacific rail line near Schellville in February 2007, where 600 acres of farmland flooded and washed out the tracks in 2006. John Burgess/The Press Democrat
"The city has been working with the North Coast Railroad Authority staff in regards to updating railroad crossings at intersections," said city engineer Curt Bates.
Trains have made test runs on the tracks over the past few months and workers have inspected rail ties and other parts of the rail system. Petaluma has eight rail crossings throughout town that have been updated with new crossing arms, rail and signal controls, and traffic signal timing.
The diesel trains will be as long as 15 cars, run at speeds of between 25 and 40 miles per hour, and make about three round trips per week on the line.
Meanwhile, residents are getting used to the idea of trains running through town for the first time since 2001.
"I love the sound of a train, it will make Petaluma sound more historic," said Linda Odetto, whose family lives in west Petaluma.
Odetto said that she is not concerned by any noise or traffic issues "as long as it's not like a superhighway."
City workers estimate that the average wait for traffic at railroad crossings will be two to three minutes.