The future of rail in Napa Sunday, October 21, 2007 The passing of Vincent DeDomenico, founder of the Napa Valley Wine Train, prompted many local leaders to look back in time to the days when DeDomenico came to the valley, when downtown Napa was moribund, rail travel seemed archaic and the impact of tourists on the local economy was less obvious. But those who worked with DeDomenico also noted that he had a vision of the Wine Train as something more than a wine-and-dine attraction for visitors that it is today. He saw it as, someday, representing a viable revival of rail as a legitimate mode of travel for residents and visitors to the Napa Valley. These days, more and more people are animated about the possibilities of rail travel here. Readers and commentators on our Web site, napavalleyregister.com, propose it as a key method for reducing our dependency on the auto. Last week, before the Register editorial board, Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said the county must consider rail as a viable option 20 or 30 years from now, when the population of the county – and pressure on key roads – will likely be larger. Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency officials consider a study of rail a necessary component of a long-term transportation planning strategy. Rail systems, like other major users of energy, have experimented with alternative, cleaner-running fuels. People see the obvious benefits of a rail system that links cities in Napa to the Vallejo Ferry terminal, the BART system or even nearby cities like Fairfield or Vacaville. American Canyon, the county’s fastest-growing city, is home to thousands of commuters who head out each day to the region’s major employment hubs. Proponents of the Napa Pipe residential plan see both rail and water travel as increasingly viable, should that project – which fronts both the old Southern Pacific train tracks and the Napa River -- be built in anything resembling its current form. Train tracks arc across the Carneros region from the Brazos Bridge west, potentially linking the East Bay to Marin and Sonoma counties. Yet through all these visions, it is very hard to see the bottom line. Would there be enough use of a rail line to financially support daily commuter travel north of the city of Napa? Would the Upvalley resistance that met DeDomenico be repeated 20 or 30 years later, and with different players at the table? Would commuter trains rumbling over Central Avenue in Napa and alongside Highway 29 Upvalley be safe for residents? How much would it cost to prepare the railroad for heavy, modern use? We need answers to these questions before there is any serious discussion of a rail revival here. With fuel at $3 a gallon, a strengthening movement to reduce traffic congestion, questions about reliance on foreign energy sources and more, it is time to start talking.