Wine Train right-of-way

While a proposal to bring light rail to the Napa Valley has been the product of a private consortium, some local officials are suggesting that a little public assistance could go a long way.

Among them are St. Helena Mayor Del Britton, who on Wednesday suggested that the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency may want to consider entering into a public-private partnership with Napa Transit Investors, the team of Chuck McMinn and Keith Rogal who have proposed light rail service between Napa and St. Helena.

Britton had previously requested that staff agendize an item to introduce the proposal to NCTPA’s board of directors. With several board members showing interest in the proposal, a more formal presentation from Napa Transit Investors will be scheduled for a future meeting.

The light rail proposal, Britton said, not only offers a solution to future traffic concerns, but is a way to help preserve the valley for future generations. 

With traffic problems north of the city of Napa projected to get worse in coming decades, jurisdictions across the valley can’t afford not to act, Britton said.

“The economy of the valley is entirely dependent on activities that take place from Yountville north,” he said. Further traffic congestion Upvalley would have a ripple effect on the county’s economy. “This is really a valley-wide problem,” he said.

McMinn, executive director of the Napa Vine Trail Coalition, and Rogal, the developer behind the Napa Pipe project, have proposed a light rail system that would run frequent passenger cars from Kennedy Park in south Napa to Deer Park Road north of St. Helena.

Passenger cars would operate using the existing right of way owned by the Napa Valley Wine Train.

The proposal, which they say would help relieve traffic along Highway 29, was previously being pitched as a private enterprise, but McMinn said he was willing to have a conversation with public entities.

“I think we’re open to anything and everything,” he said.

Currently, McMinn and Rogal are trying to raise 

$2 million to fund an initial feasibility study for the project. The pair had previously made a commitment to the owners of the Napa Valley Wine Train to have the money raised by Nov. 17, McMinn said.

Last month, Napa Transit Investors had received commitments for roughly half that amount, McMinn said, noting that there has been progress made since then. The $2 million goal, however, has yet to be reached.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer every day,” he said.

While the Nov. 17 goal is $2 million, pinning down the actual cost of the project has been more 


On Wednesday, Britton told the board that his talks with Napa Transit Investors suggest the total cost would be about $165 million. That figure would include the roughly $44 million that McMinn said would be needed for track upgrades and more signals, as well as new cars and all other costs associated with the project.

McMinn, however, wasn’t willing to toss out a final figure Wednesday.

With details of the plan not yet settled, it’s difficult to give an overall estimate, he said, noting that between $100 million and $200 million would put you “in the ballpark.”

If the project were to cost $165 million, it would be roughly $50 million cheaper than what a 2003 NCTPA study said it would cost to bring rail service to the valley.

That proposal, however, included service from Calistoga to the ferry building in Vallejo, with an additional line running to Suisun City in Solano County.

Based on the reaction from NCTPA’s board of directors, service to the Vallejo ferry building is still a priority for representatives in the south county.

Mayor Leon Garcia and Councilwoman Joan Bennett, both from American Canyon, said that passenger rail service should also run to towns south of the city of Napa.

Connecting with the ferry building would prove challenging, however, as Union Pacific owns the right of way for the tracks south of Kennedy Park and has shown little interest in having passenger rail operate there, McMinn has said.

Paul Price, executive director of NCTPA, said there had been no formal discussions involving the agency and the light rail proponents prior to Wednesday’s meeting

With the board willing to take part in the conversation, a presentation will likely be scheduled soon, he said.

“Right now, there’s just a willingness to listen,” Price said. 

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