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The two-man consortium hoping to bring light rail to the Napa Valley remains shy of its initial investment goal, with only days standing between now and a self-imposed deadline.

The pair — Chuck McMinn of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition and Keith Rogal of Napa Pipe — had previously said they hoped to raise $2 million by Nov. 17 to fund a feasibility study on their light rail proposal. 

The November deadline was set as part of McMinn’s discussions with the owners of the Napa Valley Wine Train, whose right of way would be needed for the project, he said.

McMinn and Rogal hope to run frequent passenger shuttle cars between Napa and St. Helena using the Wine Train’s right of way. The line as proposed would run from Kennedy Park, in south Napa, to Deer Park Road, just north of St. Helena.

Hesitant to discuss specific figures and commitments, McMinn confirmed that Napa Transit Investors had yet to clear the $2 million hurdle, suggesting that the bold transit proposal could flounder before it even gets off the ground.

“I’m not there yet,” he said last week, noting that there was still time before the Nov. 17 deadline. Several potential donors had been briefed on the proposal, he added. 

“I’ve certainly got enough prospects to make it happen,” he said.

While not a true drop-dead date — McMinn said the money could come in as long as a month after Nov. 17 and still successfully launch the study — this week’s target was one of the ways McMinn and Rogal were hoping to gauge community support for the project.

If too much time is allowed to go by, scuttling the project will certainly be discussed, McMinn said. If necessary, “then we’ll say ‘There’s not enough support in the valley to make it happen,’” he said, adding that he still hopes to have the study launched by Jan. 1. “It’s either going to happen by the end of the year or it isn’t.”

Should the pair manage to raise the $2 million needed to fund the study, they will still be faced with the daunting task of financing the project itself.

Neither Rogal nor McMinn have been willing to publicly provide a cost estimate for the project, though members of the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency (NCTPA) have said the pair cited a $165 million figure in early discussions.

That amount would include the cost of adding crossing signals to the many private roads that intersect the Wine Train’s tracks, as well as a complete track replacement to facilitate higher-speed light rail cars.

McMinn expects the track replacement alone to cost $1 million per mile.

Should the $165 million figure hold up, it would be roughly $50 million cheaper than what was estimated in a 2003 NCTPA rail study. That proposal, however, planned to run trains from Calistoga south to the Vallejo ferry building, with additional lines providing service to Fairfield and Suisun City.

McMinn said that service to Vallejo is part of the long-term vision for the light rail service, but that, for now, the focus remains on getting the project off the ground in the Napa Valley.

“I’m optimistic we’ll make it,” he said.

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