Eureka Southern Railroad
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (November 2009)|
On September 8, 1981, Bryan Whipple purchased the soon-to-be abandoned northern end of the Northwestern Pacific mainline from Willits, California to Eureka, California. His Eureka Southern Railroad purchased the segment of the line for $4.95 million, and on November 1, 1984 the railroad commenced operations with four EMD GP38 2,000-horsepower (1,500 kW) locomotives it acquired from Conrail, built in 1969.
The line struggled to make money, and on December 15, 1986, the road filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, but continued operations. Also environmental restrictions and historic overharvest on private timber lands limited timber availability in the region, though wood products had historically been the top source of revenue.
North Coast Daylight
The line operated an excursion train, the "North Coast Daylight", as a joint venture with Sierra Western Corp., the owners of historic passenger cars. Several of the cars had originally been Southern Pacific Daylight cars; others were a hodge-podge of vintage passenger, diner, and dome cars of the same era, painted in the iconic "Daylight" orange-striped scheme. The trains were pulled by Eureka Southern locomotives.
On Saturday mornings, the "North Coast Daylight" passengers rode excursion buses from the San Francisco Bay area to Willits, where they boarded the train. The train followed the scenic Eel River Valley north to Eureka (a route never served by the original Southern Pacific Daylight trains). Passengers generally were retired, and had grown up during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s when rail travel was more popular and important. Meals, snacks, and beverages were served throughout the trip in dining, lounge, and dome cars. Lunch menus were limited ("beef or chicken?") but the meals were well-prepared and most diners were pleasantly surprised. Passengers stayed overnight in Eureka, then boarded again on Sunday mornings for the return trip to Willits and (by bus) to the Bay Area. The ride was not always comfortable. The cars were unheated, air conditioning often failed, and meals often were late. The vintage rail car toilets simply emptied their contents onto the tracks below, and passengers were asked not to flush while the train was stopped in the stations at Willits and Eureka.
The North Coast Daylight was never financially stable, and operation was interrupted several times by reorganizations and damaged tracks. The service lasted, off and on, from about 1985 through 1990. The vintage cars were "marooned" in several rail yards when all rail service south was abandoned. Several have been scrapped, though at least one has been "rescued."
In September 1988 the ES purchased the 7-mile (11 km) shortline Arcata and Mad River Railroad from Simpson Timber Company for $300,000. The A&MR had been closed for the two-year period prior to its purchase by the Eureka Southern.
In 1991 the line was shut down due to an earthquake and related landslide. The line was sold to the North Coast Railroad Authority in 1992, who operated the line for several year before shutting it down. The line was renamed the North Coast Railroad, and many of the GP9s can still be viewed along the yard in Eureka. The "northern" segment of the NWP and formed Eureka Southern has been out of service since 1995. Plans were underway to possibly turn this section of track into a tourist train operation, but have since been halted. The Eel River canyon part of the line is wrecked, and would cost an estimated 20 million dollars to repair and to have trains running on the line. Rumors have been heard that the NCRA (North Coast Railroad Authority) is planning to abandon the section of the line. Many freight cars dot the line, including a boxcar still lying in the river from a 1987 derailment.
Hopes to reopen the line between Willits and Eureka are fading fast, with nature doing more and more damage to the railroad.