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Oooohhhhhh busted...From Railway Age Magazine...

Thurs. June 24th 2014

By Douglas John Bowen

The general counsel for Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co. (NWP) has moved to defuse complaints from NWP's Vice President Jacob Park related to implementing passenger rail service in Sonoma and Marin counties in northern California.

In a letter dated July 4, 2014, Park cited "past and proposed actions taken by the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) that are hurting local businesses, obstructing NWP's rightful use of the railroad, and are in direct conflict with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's (MTC) goal of promoting efficient and shared use of rail lines for commuter and freight services." MTC is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Bay Area.

But in a July 15 letter to MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger, NWP General Counsel Douglas H. Bosco downplayed any friction between NWP and SMART, stating, "These issues, though important, are ones that could be expected between the building of a state-of-the-art passenger system that will share the same track with freight services. Procedures for the resolution of all issues between SMART and [North Coast Railroad Authority and NWP] are carefully laid out in the Operating Agreement, entered into between the parties in June 2011."

Bosco notes, "Since agreed-upon procedures are in place, I have informed Mr. Park that raising these issues with the MTC was not appropriate or authorized."

A second letter, dated July 16, was sent by North Coast Railroad Authority Executive Director Mitch Stogner to SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian, also reassuring SMART and its allies that the authority, like the short line, did not expect such a letter objecting to SMART's activities.

Stogner said the letter by Park "was sent without my knowledge or consent, or the knowledge or consent of the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) Board of Directors." He added, " I think the letter to [MTC's] Mr. Heminger was ill-advised and I intend to notify Mr. Heminger personally to let him know that NCRA disapproves of the letter and, instead, will continue to work with SMART in a spirit of cooperation."

NCRA, formed in 1989, notes on its website, “The Mission of the North Coast Railroad Authority is to provide a unified & revitalized rail infrastructure meeting the freight and passenger needs of the region.”'

A source close to Petaluma, Calif.-based SMART, noting earlier Railway Age coverage of the story, said Wednesday, July 23, that the letter had “led to a misperception that SMART is damaging local business,” with local media putting the initial story “on the front page.” No such coverage of the two letters affirming support for SMART has yet received local coverage, the source said. 

SMART seeks to construct a 70-mile line serving Sonoma and Marin counties, north of San Francisco, linking Cloverdale and Larkspur, Calif., with ferry connections planned to link Larkspur with San Francisco. The project also includes a bicycle and pedestrian path.

The $203 million initial operating segment between Sonoma County Airport and San Raphael is scheduled to open in late 2016, served by 18 diesel multiple-units (DMUs) produced by Sumitomo Corp. and Nippon Sharyo, equipped with Cummins, Inc.'s Tier 4 Final-compliant QSK19-R diesel engines.

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    So....... ten years down the road......any predictions?  Hi speed rail.....not quite, pedestrian savy.....not quite, ......freight?......what freight???  Traffic solutions?  Hmmmm.....not quite.....but, we're workin' on it.  Nice SMART vehicles.....rider friendly.....NoWhereimParticular, about a ride to Willits?  When it all shakes out, who will take the credit?  ....or blame?  STAY TUNED........

Yeh JB I don't live in those counties but I am considering if SMART went to Healdsburg and Larkspur (thanks to a TIGER Grant that point seems possible). 

I used to laugh at UP for the STUPID context but SMART now takes the emblem.  Have you seen that beautiful station in Cloverdale just sitting there wasting away waiting for a train?

So Sad!

It takes at least a generation for a commuter rail system to "mature."  People have to get used to it.  Infrastructure has to develop around it.  And so on.  SMART will probably be a great asset fifty years from now and they should realize and admit that it is a project to benefit the communities it serves decades from now.  But it will take that long for homes to be built in places like Cloverdale and for businesses that employ the people that live in those houses to exist in places like Novato and San Rafael and even San Francisco.  Only then will "catching the 6:05" in Cloverdale make sense to get to a job at 8:00 AM in San Rafael.  SMART is also going to have to do some serious reengineering between now and then.  It's really neither fish nor fowl.  It's an interurban system that they are trying to operate as an intraurban system.  It's too short to be a BART and has too few stops and not enough population to be a MUNI.  It's doubtful that Marin will ever have the sort of business density to ever be the sort of commuter draw the City is.  To really work, SMART has to effectively connect a lot of people with the City via Larkspur.  Unfortunately, they felt that to sell the tax to the voters they had to promise "bells and whistles" custom state of the art DMU's and a ridiculous bike path alongside the ROW.  (Like who's going to commute to work from Petaluma to San Rafael on a bicycle on a sunny day, let alone in the rain.)  If they'd started out with leased stock DMU's or CalTrain style cars and engines, they'd have been up and running years earlier and had money left over, relatively speaking.  The initial management were totally out to lunch.  Fortunately, Mansourian is one of the few guys who can get a job like SMART built, but after that, who's going to run it?  Does anybody know who is deciding how that is going to be done?  Who is it that's making decisions like buying DMU's that can't load at ground level or need gauntlet tracks and raised platforms?  Who is it that is deciding that they don't need more passing sidings.  Is there somebody at SMART who's decided how they are going to accommodate a stalled DMU, or a car accident at a grade crossing, that stops the whole system and how are they going to maneuver around that?  What happens to their schedule when a barge or a sailboat passes under the Haystack Landing bridge? (The boats have the right of way and the bridge has to open for them.  It only takes a look at BART to see how one stalled DMU can throw the entire schedule off kilter for hours.  Who's running SMART, anyhow?  Obviously, it's not somebody with much understanding about how to coexist with freight, either.  I'm quite confident they will get it built, but I'm not so sure they will figure out how to run in in such a way that it will be of much use to people.

Bob.....right on.....You have nailed it!  Nice job putting it all in perspective.  I couldn't have done it as well as you have laid it on the table.....Again, ....thankyou....and very nice work!We'll see what happens with SMART in the will be.....very interesting!    ....J  B

Question: does anyone from SMART read this stuff? (I'm hoping.)

  If SMART had been smart, they would have double tracked their entire project, with signaling devices and crossovers, like Cal-Train has done down on the peninsula.  Single track, with a few passing sidings may very well run into problems down the road, either with faulty equipment or breakdowns, accidents with pedestrians or vehicles, or other unforseen circumstances.  You always get better flow with two straws in the coke bottle.  Money,.....yes, it would have had a pretty hefty price tag.  Just a thought...and does SMART read these comments,.....hopefully if they're Smart...get my drift??? ....   J  B

Well said jb well said.

Yep, I strongly suspect that SMART's mindset when in the initial design phase was that freight would never roll on that ROW again and they'd be alone to do as they wished.  I think they envisioned a "one way" system where all the DMUs would go south in the mornings, sit idle all day long, and then all run north in the evenings.  God only knows what they were smoking!  Look at CalTrain.  That commuter line was originally designed to take people from the Peninsula up to the City for work.  Now it takes people from the City to work in Silicon Valley.  Go figure.

a ridiculous bike path alongside the ROW.  (Like who's going to commute to work from Petaluma to San Rafael on a bicycle on a sunny day, let alone in the rain.)

Me.  I commute by bicycle every day.  I love the idea of taking the train from Healdsburg to any town the train will serve, than biking on the path as much as possible before diverting to wherever my final destination may be.     The city buses only hold 3 bikes.   I forget how much the smart units are designed to?  

Wouldn't ya know it.  There's always one in every crowd!

Back in my college days, long before it was ever fashionable, I did the same, all over the City, rain or shine, hills and all.  Taking the train and then biking makes sense.  As much as I used to love biking myself (too old now) I really don't see the cost/benefit analysis penciling out on a continuous bike path the length of the entire SMART ROW, though.


Not sure where you live but I don't think you understand the politics that was required to convince the Marin Cty voters to approve the tax measure that has allowed our beloved RR to get back on the track.  I agree with jb that the SMART designers are clueless about the operation of a commuter RR but without the funding from the two counties now, trains would now be running on the RoW.

I'm a long way from college days and I still ride a bicycle rain or shine (we ride between the raindrops when they come) so am looking forward to having that path operational along with the commuter system.

I expect that these new SMART cars will have capacity to carry bicycles.  CalTrain in my area has had a huge ridership increase in part because they have a 70% car space dedicated to carrying bicycles.  Even the Santa Clara County "Tonnerville VTA Trollies" have bike racks in their light rail cars.

But maybe I am expecting too much from SMART.

I'm very local and very clearly recall the politics of the SMART tax vote.  It was, on both sides, one of the worst examples of voter misinformation I can recall in a long time.  Unfortunately, the crazy faction of the environmentalist wing tried to turn it into some sort of referendum on freight rail in order to prevent restoration of freight service through the Eel River Canyon, which, quite clearly, had nothing at all to do with the SMART election.  SMART, for its spin doctors' perspective, was sold to the public as some sort of "all things to all voters" cornucopia of interurban rapid transit, street car lines, amusement part ride and recreational development (i.e. the full length bike path) which no such system can ever deliver.

I'm not an expert on the subject, but as they say, "I play one on TV."  Nevertheless, the SMART tax measure really had nothing at all to do with "allowing our beloved RR to get back on track."  NCRA restored service in conjunction with its contractor NWP Co.  I can't say whether SMART contributed anything to the $60M (IIRC) that was spent on rehabbing the line to meet federal freight standards (Sorry, I'm too lazy at the moment to look that up), but I am sure that NWP Co. was hauling freight on the reopened line long before SMART ever turned a shovelful of dirt.

Don't misunderstand my point.  I think that bike capability should be an integral part of any transit system and that bikes are the best option available for moving people efficiently from stations to workplaces and homes where the distance is relatively short and relatively flat.  That said, I don't see many using bikes as an option for relatively long distance commuting.  There are those "Iron Men" who bike five or ten miles to work daily, but they are in the minority by far.  What I am saying with regard to SMART is that a bike path the entire length of the SMART right of way is not going to provide much of a commute option because very few people are going to regularly commute by bike between Petaluma and San Rafael, for example.  "Feeder" bike paths that run between stations and neighborhoods, absolutely, but a continuous bike path between Cloverdale and San Rafael is not only overkill, but redundant wherever routes already exist and an expenditure of funds that has almost nothing to do with mass transit and pretty much everything to do with recreation.  As far as I am concerned, that was a very expensive price to pay for selling the idea to a bunch of narcissistic Yuppies.  I realize, though, that others' mileage may vary.

SMART's ill-advised decision (IMHO) to custom-design FRA-compliant railcars does not bode well for cyclists. Compared to the global price, the SMART DMU’s are much more expensive and the FRA rules will likely require bikes carried on board to be strapped into racks so as not to become missiles in a crash.  That will limit how many bikes will be permitted because one bike in a rack equals two passenger seats.  The experience in similar situations on other systems demonstrates that in such instances the limiting factor for riders using bikes is the limited amount of space available for bikes.  The result is that cyclists often cannot board a train with seats available because the bike racks are already full.  Maybe somebody already knows, but I'm guessing that you won't see more than somewhere between three and six bike racks on a SMART DMU, so good luck depending on SMART to take your bike to work.


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