The North Coast Railroad Authority took final steps Monday to restore freight service in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties, but it still needs agreement from Novato before trains roll.
The rail authority wants to change terms of a court settlement with Novato, which sued in 2007 to stop the trains. Novato city leaders are scheduled to consider the issue next week.
There's been no cargo service on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad since 2001, when federal transportation regulators halted traffic on the storm-damaged route.
Last month, the Federal Railroad Administration lifted its embargo, after the authority spent $68 million to repair a 62-mile stretch of track between Windsor and Napa County.
The rail authority has leased the segment to a private operator, NWP Co., which will provide the freight service. The line remains closed north of Windsor.
On Monday, the president of a Windsor manufacturing company said he's anxious to use the trains.
"We want to get rail service to our plant," said Dick Caletti of Standard Structures, which makes engineered wood beams, trusses and joists for commercial construction.
"We want to ship out so we can get into Eastern markets," he said. The NWP connects to the national rail system at a junction south of Napa.
In addition to wood products, the trains would initially haul feed and grain, aggregate and wine, said John Williams, NWP president. Service would begin with 15-car trains and three round trips a week.
The authority Monday approved an environmental report on the service and a track-sharing agreement with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which plans to run commuter trains starting in 2014.
The authority also adopted changes to its lease with NWP Co. and the lawsuit settlement with Novato.
Cargo service could start when Novato signs off on the deal, said Mitch Stogner, the authority's executive director.
"We would get going immediately," he said.
But the authority also faces threat of legal action from three Humboldt County environmental groups who said it failed to consider impacts on the Eel River.
The authority has no plans to reopen the railroad in the Eel River canyon, but the groups said the issue should have been examined.
They promised to sue if the authority launches train service without addressing their claims.
On Monday, authority directors defended their report, saying the railroad will help the environment by taking trucks off Highway 101.