Wine Train right-of-way

Hoping to one day bring light rail service to the Napa Valley, a group of local investors has entered into a discussion with the Napa Valley Wine Train for a shuttle passenger service to run on the gourmet train’s tracks.

The idea is being put forward by Napa Transit Investors — a group of local interests brought together by Keith Rogal, the developer behind the Napa Pipe housing/light industrial project. 

The possibility of rail service to the proposed 2,850-home development at the former Napa Pipe site had been raised by Rogal in the past as a way of answering critics who say his project will create unavoidable traffic problems in the south county. 

A light rail agreement might also accommodate Napa Valley Vine Trail — a proposed bike and pedestrian path running the length of the Napa Valley to Vallejo — built on Wine Train’s right-of-way.

Chuck McMinn, executive director of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition and president of Napa Transit Investors, said that the talks between the investor group and management of the Napa Valley Wine Train had occurred over the past four years. Greg McManus, the Wine Train’s CEO, had recently indicated openness to the concept, he said.

Attempts to contact McManus on Monday were unsuccessful.

Napa Valley Wine Train management is expected to provide Napa Transit Investors with more detailed information — including financial specifics and legal information associated with the proposal — over the next few months, Rogal said.

While talks regarding a potential light rail partnership have been taking place behind the scenes for years, McMinn said that the conversation can now be taken public.

As early as next week, McMinn hopes to hold a public forum designed to solicit input on the idea of establishing light rail service in the Napa Valley.

“This is a big idea with lots of moving parts,” he said. “We’re hoping to get as much public input as we can.”

A date and time for the meeting have yet to be announced, McMinn said.

While generating public support for the project, McMinn said he would also be working to assemble a group of investors willing to fund the light rail project.

Many of the specifics of the proposed light rail service — including areas that lines would serve, frequency of travel and how the endeavor would affect the current operations of the Napa Valley Wine Train — are far from being decided, McMinn said. Discussions with both the public and potential investors would eventually provide the answers, he said.

“That’s all part of what we’re going to need to figure out,” he said.

While admitting that bringing light rail to Napa would be a “large and costly” project, Rogal said that the endeavor remains both “financially and technically feasible.” 

A team of experts is currently reviewing all aspects of the plan and working to draft a budget, he added.

In 2003, a study commissioned by the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency (NCTPA) found that it would cost roughly $216 million to establish a passenger rail system between Napa, Fairfield and Vallejo.

For that price, Napa riders would have hourly service to the ferry building in Vallejo and terminals of the Capitol Corridor trains, which connect Suisun City with Sacramento and San Jose.

Rogal said that study made a number of assumptions that he doesn’t think are relevant to the type of service being imagined by Napa Transit Investors, and that the pending budget would provide a more accurate picture of the project’s cost.

Delivering a full-county light rail service would also require some significant expansion on the Napa Valley Wine Train’s existing line. 

The Wine Train’s existing right-of-way runs only from the Charles Krug Winery, north of St. Helena, south to the southern end of Kennedy Park in Napa, Rogal said. 

When NCTPA was first exploring the idea of rail transit in Napa County, Calistoga asked that the cost of laying a new line of track to link that city with its southern neighbors be included in the scope of the study.

The 2003 study ultimately rejected the St. Helena-Calistoga link as unfeasible, finding it would cost between $36 million to $116 million to establish that connection.

Service would also need to be expanded south of Napa, where the vast majority of the county’s growth is taking place.

While southern expansion would seem “logical” if the light rail concept ever took off, bringing passenger trains to American Canyon or the proposed Napa Pipe project would require Napa Transit Investors to enter into an agreement with Union Pacific, which own the corridor south of Napa.

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