Rail could be in Lake Tahoe Basin’s future | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rail could be in Lake Tahoe Basin’s future

Gregory Crofton
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune Old trolley cars sit across the street from the airport ready for use at South Shore.

Advance to the nearest railroad, pass go and collect $200.

Somewhere in that sentence could be the answer to Tahoe’s public transit problems.

Pretty much everyone agrees something has to be done about the cars that clog South Shore on big weekends and holidays. The exhaust pollutes the air, the lake and detracts from the core of what Tahoe needs to offer: serene natural beauty.

One of the organizations charged with protecting that serenity is the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Its new leader, John Singlaub, recognizes the problem and says he is going to work to come up with some answers.

“We have not done what we really need to be doing – getting people out of their cars and finding some alternative form of transit,” Singlaub said. “I don’t think we have a real vision of where we want to go.

“If we have any hope of having an Olympics near the lake, we’d have to deal with the gridlock. Right now we can’t even handle Presidents Day weekend.”

Programs like BlueGo, a linked bus and shuttle system at South Shore, are a step in the right direction, Singlaub said. But overall, the traffic problems will likely get worse, he said, as Truckee and Reno grow and more cars owners visit Tahoe.

“My hope is to have this vision in place by 2007,” Singlaub said. “We’ve even talked about making transportation a threshold.”

The target date is 2007 because it is by then that the TRPA plans to have updated its thresholds, environmental goals for the basin, and adopted a new 20-year regional plan.

Key places for transit links would be Truckee and Carson City, Singlaub said.

“Then we’ve got to have good links in the basin like light rail, buses or waterborne transit,” he said. “What better place to see a low-energy kind of solution?”

Gunnar Henriolle, a longtime South Shore resident and railroad advocate, agrees so completely with that viewpoint about 15 years ago he went out and bought a slew of used rail cars, most from the city of San Francisco, for use at Tahoe.

Eighteen of the cars still sit in his front yard across from Lake Tahoe Airport ready. He sold the other seven.

“I’m still of a mind do a project here using six or eight of the trolleys,” Henriolle, 62, said. “So they rest quietly at the airport waiting for the leaders to decide what to do.”

Henriolle said his hopes were high in the late 1980s that a light rail system would be installed between Camp Richardson, the airport and down to Stateline. But plans formulated by the Tahoe Transportation District, a group overseen by the TRPA, crumbled.

The transportation district had aimed to create a linked system of public transit around the lake, but a sales tax to implement the plan was put on the ballot and failed, said Del Laine, mayor of South Lake Tahoe at the time.

Ideally, Henriolle says, the answer to Tahoe’s transit dilemmas lie in a light rail system between Stateline and Camp Richardson; waterborne transit from Camp Richardson to Tahoe City; light rail from Tahoe City to Truckee; and heavier rail that runs from Truckee to Reno and Sacramento.

A train already stops in Truckee. And back in the days before the automobile, the tracks continued from Truckee to Tahoe City. Passengers would then take a ride on a steamship to get to their destination.

Today power to run the trains could be purchased from hydro-electric producers in the American River Canyon, Henriolle said, or another alternative to fossil fuel, hydrogen.

Chris Swan, 58, of San Francisco, owns a company called Suntrain. He said that today if trains were installed at Tahoe they could be powered through a combination of solar energy and fuel cell.

Solar energy would be used to crack a tank of water into hydrogen and oxygen. If a fuel cell is run on hydrogen its “exhaust” is water, Swan said.

“It’s all possible today, immediately,” Swan said. “Nobody’s put all the pieces together, but all the pieces exist. Hydrogen fuel cell buses will be out in 2006.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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