Al Bulf was born in San Francisco in 1943 and lived there until he was ten years old. He fondly remembers riding the key railsystem over the Bay Bridge with his grandmother, and traveling all over the city with her on the streetcars to so many of the places that San Francisco is famous for. When He was ten years old, his parents moved to Auburn where they had a 200-acre fruit orchard. He spent his formative years there in the orchards and traveling the Sierra foothills with his father delivering propane to customers throughout the Mother Lode. Without exaggerating, learning about the Sierra rail systems of the past, and in operation during his teen years,working in the fruit orchard, and delivering energy to customers with his father has made him into the man he is today.
He retired from the Sacramento Municipal UtilityDistrict (SMUD) in April 2009. His education and training dealing with energy systems, rail planning and development are extensive. Al does not wish to see his talents go to waste with an idle retirement. He went to work for SMUD right out of California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) finishing a double Bachelors degree on the GI Bill after he received extensive training and experience in nuclear power as a Petty Officer Marine Engineer in the US Navy.
His grandparents vacationed in Northern California areas such as the Sierra Nevada and other places of natural beauty around the turn of the Twentieth Century. When he looks at the beauty throughout Northern California regions today, he envisions rail systems reestablished where they once were part of a thriving interurban system. With the enhancements available in twenty first century technology, his vision is to rebuild and enhance mobility; very much like you see in Switzerland and other resort areas around the Globe. Al says, “It just makes so much sense to help enhance the beauty of these areas, to be part of realizing the dream of bringing rail back into Nevada City and elsewhere, it is hard to describe in just a few words”.
There have been numerous historical efforts to bring rail into areas that never had a train at all. He admires the spirit of the people who have worked for these causes in the past, such as Clear Lake. To reestablish railways in corridors that once had railways, trolleys, and interurban express trains in the past is the most logical way to start building for a sustainable future. He is confident he has the talents and experience to make the next effort be the one that finally gets our society moving back in the right direction.
How can Al Bulf help make this a reality?
His professional career started off with him going into the Nuclear Navy prior to the Tonkin Gulf incident, where he was trained extensively in the operation of Nuclear Power systems. After his honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy as a Petty Officer Marine Engineer, Al used the GI Bill to Earn Bachelors Degrees from CSUS in Urban and Transportation Planning, as well as Asian History. While he was working on a Master’s Degree in Nuclear Waste Management from CSUS, he was offered a job with SMUD, helping train operators for SMUD’s Nuclear Power facility using his de-classified knowledge, especially as related to public safety and environmental concerns. His full career at SMUD lasted 39 years. He worked at the Rancho Seco Nuclear Power facility for 28 of those years. Following the closure of the Nuclear Facility under public pressure, he held positions in Public Relations, Power Distribution Planning, and Support Services.
While in Power Distribution Planning, he worked on a project to electrify the Capitol Corridor. While this project still has not come to fruition as yet, many of the contacts he made are still supportive of his planning efforts. Many of his prior projects have been accomplished through his professional affiliations outside of his employment responsibilities with SMUD, and have been done entirely through his volunteer efforts as an activist to avoid any potential conflicts of interest with his role as a SMUD employee. Nonetheless, he has worked in the capacity of transportation planning at SMUD as well. One of the benefits of his experience at SMUD is that it enabled him to stay abreast of the technological developments in rail and energy technology.
His volunteer activities included: being on the team of citizens who started the Light Rail System in Sacramento, which later became one of SMUD’s largest customers. He lobbied heavily to start the Capitol Corridor rail service, which remains diesel-electric powered, yet has the #3 position in rider-ship Nationwide. He also worked on the Altamont Pass Commuter Express in a volunteer capacity, and participated in the study to put rail on the lower deck of the Golden Gate Bridge through lobbying the Golden Gate Bridge and Transit Authority. That study, which was completed at a cost of one million dollars around 1980, yielded the result that the project was, and remains feasible to this day.
Al never received monetary compensation for his lobbying activities while on the SMUD payroll. Yet, over the years, he has continued to appear at public meetings, met with legislators, campaigned for public officials, proposed projects, and worked together with other teams, such as the SMART Train campaign, and a recent proposal for a new streetcar line in Sacramento.
How he will be able to facilitate projects at this time will be, to expand upon the numerous contacts he has made over the years, and not being limited by his role as a SMUD employee, be free to join with others in partnership and commit himself wholeheartedly to realizing the long held dream of bringing rail into areas, like Nevada County. More importantly, he will be able to apply his extensive knowledge and experience in rail systems, energy systems, public relations, engineering and planning, avoiding the pitfalls through lessons learned from existing Rail and Energy Management organizations miscalculations and disadvantageous encumberances with government and other public institutions.
What is the Nevada City Sustainability Team? Who are its members?
The Nevada City Sustainability Team is a group of volunteers whose focus is to facilitate a sustainable future for Nevada City and the surrounding region. Al being only one of many accomplished members, the group consists of notable members of the Nevada City community who have also dedicated their lives to environmentally renewable projects in their personal careers and additional endeavors.This primary focus has been the group’s effort since its inception. And, as a whole, it believes it will only be a matter of time before the Nevada City Trolley and many other long-term projects come to fruition. The Team has developed a matrix of projects, all in various phases of completion. Al has a tacit nod of approval from the group to coordinate with others to continue his efforts for the Nevada City / Grass Valley Trolley line as well as support for sustainable mobility projects in general. However, it is most likely that an entirely new entity is needed for this Nevada City to Colfax railway project. Hence he founded the "Northern Sierra Railway".
Possibilities for funding channels
Since the Economic Collapse of 2008, the State of California has swung the doors wide open for public/private partnerships. And, Al considers that this could be one way to “get onboard” for economic development projects regarding Infrastructure. Most transportation infrastructure development is indeed funded by the government, e.g. Airports. With the investment markets being the way they are now, he could propose bonds for 50% of the cost to build, maintain and operate the system over an amortized period of 30 years. That has been the common practice in Europe heretofore for 100% of the costs. Given the current situation, here in California, Al considers a 51-49 approach to be one well worth consideration instead of pure government (with the 51 being privately held).
Right now, a consortium of Swiss Cantons is financing a railroad that requires one 35-mile long tunnel to be excavated through the Alps. The cost of excavating this tunnel along with the rest of the tunnels and infrastructure development is approximately 15 billion dollars (US) for this railroad called the Base Gothard Railroad between Switzerland and Italy. Economists project that this train will pay out in less than ten years. The bonds for this again are thirty-year maturity bonds, nonetheless. Estimates for an entirely privately owned and operated railway bring the turn around time for paying off the costs of construction and development to around only five years after beginning operation.
Compared to the Base Gothard Railroad, the 2 or 3 mile double tracked tunnel he is proposing as part of a Nevada County system, overall about one thirtieth of that in scope and expected costs is relatively small. Still, it would be a very big project to undertake for Nevada County at a cost of about one half billion over thirty years. The exact methods for financing are details that could pan-out in different ways. Local Private Ownership would be ideal. Given the cost problems we are seeing with the California High Speed Rail system, government management seems very unappealing. However, private arrangements, possibly with Deutchesbank, or any number of other viable investors could provide alternatives.
The main problem, as Al sees it, is the mind set that,“it can’t be done”, or a knee-jerk comment like, "it would be too expensive". Al is confident it can be done. And, amazing as it may seem to those who remain to be convinced, this would be the first project of its kind in the country for almost a century. We would not be waiting in line with our hats in hand, waiting for Stimulus money that would be unlikely to ever come; and even if it did, it would have so many encumberances entailed, that the project would most likely die of strangulation and over burden before the first shovel ever went into the ground.
Where have similar projects been successful?
Switzerland, Japan, France, Spain, Formosa, SouthKorea, Italy (Have you seen the bridge they are building from Italy to Sicily?) Many rail systems in Europe are multi-function railways i.e.,transit, freight and tourism, such as The Glacier Express, Bernina, and Locarno Bellinzona. Without the rail connections, these communities would be isolated and economic backwaters. However, with rail, they are vital destinations that are prepared for the energy and mobility needs of the Twenty First Century.
What projects has Al Bulf been involved in?
- Sacramento Light Rail
- Capitol Corridor
- ACE Train
- Bay Bridge rebuild supporting rail back on thebridge (Only one not happening based on decisions by Cal Trans District 4 and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority)
- Sacramento Light Rail Extensions: Folsom, Meadowview, Sacramento International Airport and Amtrak Station.
In all of the above-mentioned projects, Al helped conceive the projects, lobbied politicians, gave many public talks, produced brochures and posters and interfaced with potential manufacturers. In all cases, except in the case of dealing with Siemens in an official capacity as a SMUD employee, he did these things without compensation because it is his passion, and because he was restricted by his relationship with SMUD to do otherwise.
Al has the gratification of knowing he was instrumental in building these railroads. Al has an extensive background of resource studies and applications. He has developed a philosophy that, as a Nation; we need fewer cars and more centralized transit as well as rail and tourism development that is better for the environment, and for numerous other reasons.