Napa Valley Wine Train considers commuter service for valley workers

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The Napa Valley Wine Train in operation in California.
Steven M. Welch
NAPA, Calif. — The management of the Napa Valley Wine Train is considering offering commuter service consisting of one weekday round-trip between Napa and St. Helena, Calif.

The private operator’s proposal is to haul one, and perhaps eventually two, 70-to-80-seat ex-Southern Pacific coaches with a single locomotive, says Wine Train principal Scott Goldie. Goldie made the announcement at a Jan. 5 forum organized by the Train Riders Association of California. He says railroad officials plan to begin service later in 2018.

The railroad has reached out to five St. Helena businesses — primarily wineries and restaurants — to lease seats on the train for their employees for at least six months, in an effort to reduce traffic on local roads. These plans have been in the works since mid-2016, a year after a partnership between a hotel chain and a real estate investment firm bought the railroad from the DeDomenico family, which had owned it since 1987.

The commuter trip would take about 40 minutes each way with a top speed of 25 mph owing to multiple ungated grade crossings. The railroad bought the ex-SP coaches in 2016 and can refurbish them for about $250,000 per car.

Tom Davies, president of the V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, tells the Napa Valley Register that each tourist train going up the valley takes about 15 cars off the roads, but said studies show only 20 percent of local traffic consists of visitors. The winery employs 50 to 80 people, depending on the season, and most commute from the Napa area.

The last regularly scheduled non-excursion passenger service between Napa and St. Helena was operated by the interurban Napa Valley Electric Railroad from 1912 to 1937. The current wine train has been in operation since 1989. It runs one daytime round-trip each day except Sunday as well as a Saturday evening dinner train.
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