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Good news about this award. BUT why does SMART require so much funding to extend an existing RoW to Windsor which NWP has used recently, for their trains? Does that just mean that SMART will cut off all of the freight spurs as they extend their passenger rail line into Windsor with no allowance for NWP to service customers?
Heard about this from SMART GM this morning. The grant to extend to Winsor was for $20M. This amount, I presume, is necessary because SMART will have to lay new CWR and concrete ties and the entire length of ROW will require PTC (positive train control) upgrading, raised station platforms, etc., etc., etc. Well within budget projections. This amount is expected to pay for the whole cost of the extension to Windsor.
SMART is really humming along with ridership way over even their own projections, sometimes nearly by a factor of two and they are running three-DMU trains on some runs to keep up with the passenger load. There won't be any NS center cars, though, because NS went under on it's US operations due to a business plan that failed to consider things like unions and American regulations. SMART was able to get a negotiated huge price reduction on additional DMUS from manufacturer NS because they were "tooled up" to build those (but not the middle cars.) The three-car trains with three DMUs will be it for the foreseeable future, though because there won't be anything more made by NS in the US when the last of the DMUs are delivered. What that means for SMART's getting parts and manufacturer support is anybody's guess now, though. SMART GM Farad Mansourian was stuck with the NS DMUs which were already contracted when he took over for the screw-up management that started the project. (Things like raised loading platforms that required gauntlet tracks at all stations to accommodate freight clearance regulations, etc. etc. etc.) With the much larger ridership, SMART is now feeling the pinch and wishes it was initially designed with double tracking. There will probably be more double tracking installed to accommodate more traffic on the system.
BIG NEWS: The $1M that came with the $20M is for initial engineering planning for expansion of the SMART east to connect to the national rail system at Suisun City or Fairfield where it will connect with the Capital Corridor System and, presumably, Amtrack, connecting it with the rest of the nation. This is intended to also address the commuter traffic that now clogs Highway 37. The Hwy 37 causeway between Sears Point and Vallejo is sinking into the mud and, while temporary fixes are being made, it needs an entire rebuild, if not a raised causeway on pilings. There's lots of environmental issues with all that which the state wants to avoid. A smaller, less impactful project on Hwy 37 is possible if the old NWP ROW between the Ignacio Wye and the Napa River bridge (Brazos) can be employed for SMART commuter service. This is now a big priority for the State. SMART's success and amazing public acceptance has now gotten the State's attention and the money is expected to flow better than in the past. This initial planning, while obvious to anybody familiar with the commute patterns, was only on SMART's long-range radar. The State was the one that asked SMART to begin the planning process.
As for freight, it looks like the NCRA will be dissolved and their function, "preserving rail access on the old NWP ROW," will be passed on to SMART. SMART's GM says he and the SMART board are 100% committed to supporting and expanding freight services if and when that administrative transfer is accomplished. The GM says that the night freight operations are working very well and they want to expand freight service north to accommodate customers on the ROW. He mentioned that there is a lot of industry, existing and potential, north of Santa Rosa. There certainly didn't seem to be any "anti-freight" bias from SMART at all. Presumably, the existing freight contractor would continue to operate the freight end. NWP Co. at present only has a single engine equipped with PTC. A more active freight operation is going to require PTC-equipped freight engines.
After expanding north to Windsor, SMART's next goal will be extending to Healdsburg and thereafter north to ultimately Cloverdale. Given the NCRA transfer to SMART, working north will likely result, at least for freight. (There's talk in Sacramento of passing the northern end of the old NWP ROW to Caltrans or some other State agency for trails and "rail banking," but where the cut off might be is speculative, as is the whether Caltrans or whoever would be interested in it anyway.
SMART's GM noted that a lot of the passenger traffic already, especially on weekends, is tourists going to the Sonoma Wine Country and Petaluma's and Santa Rosa's Historic Districts. Surveys there indicate a large uptick in tourists and restaurant patrons coming in on the SMART trains. SMART realizes that this traffic is bound to increase substantially when the line reaches Healdsburg, another major tourist destination.
All in all, SMART seems to be far more successful that even SMART itself ever imagined and they are working double-time to accommodate the ridership volume they are experiencing and expect to increase in the future.
So very glad to read this Bob.
I'm fairly certain the documents stated the cutoff point was Willits. Everything North of Willits will be transferred to Caltrans, while everything South of Willits will be transferred to SMART.
the old 101 crossing a couple miles N of downtown Willetts has been gone for over a year along w/ a stretch of ROW North of the (removed) crossing that had crossed small industry access. ROW South of the former crossing is probably intact thru to the comparatively large NWP yards N of the E/W main drag & NWP depot that seems to still be in use by the city & Skunk Train. looks like the logical dividing point would be at the old 101 or close to it.
Great report, Bob! Thank you!