Northwestern Pacific Railroad Network

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This article in the PD tells a story:

 How does this save rider time when they have to take a bus to get to the station in Santa Rosa?  Just plain stupid planning.  Has Mansourian ever run a passenger railroad?

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I thought the same thing when I read the article.  It's hard enough to get people to use mass transit but the funny thing is if they can't drive their car to it why take it.  Why is someone in Rincon Valley going to drive their car to the parking garage, take a bus to railroad square then take another bus to the ferry in Larkspur. Riding SMART is going to require some kind of sacrifice from commuters to get to their final destination.  The obvious best alternative is to ride your bike and take it on the train.  Not too many people will be able to walk from their home to the station and walk to work.

If you are referring to the article it didn't come across as negative it gave you the information about the best spot to park your car to catch SMART downtown.  If you are referring to my post why it might seem negative it's my opinion about why SMART may not attract riders.  I'm all for SMART being successful and have said all along there needs to be a starting point to get cars off 101. I didn't call it a waste of money, a train to nowhere and never did I say no one will ride it.  I implied that Santa Rosa/SMART didn't seem to plan well in getting parking closer to the downtown station.  We are still a society that relies on cars to get you from point A to point B.  I wonder what percentage of Sonoma County residents rely on mass transit, anyone have that number?

Oh my, I'm the first to post a negative discussion about SMART on this site?  I know the NWP needs SMART to support the RoW but this type of planning is not conducive to the success of a badly needed transit alternative.

Also I'm not YET a resident so I'd doubt if he will listen to my suggestions.

My belief is that there will be more riders than they can handle. They're not trying to take every car off the road.

Tommy with all due respect and you get a lot, you are making assumptions about my thinking that are not correct.  The PD link came from my b'inlaw who lives in Santa Rosa and his son and family too.  They are looking at SMART for many reasons to use a a means to commute to San Rafael in southern Marin county and then when the extension is completed, to Larkspur to get over to SF.  I don't think they are unique in this concept.  I'm sure that the GG Bridge authority has data on how many Marin and Sonoma commuters drive into San Francisco during the weekday commute. 

The voters in the two counties supported the sales tax increase to provide a mass transit solution to help alleviate the region's vehicle bottlenecks on 101 thru both counties.  I never saw a survey of where riders would embark and disembark and if you know of one pls send me a link.   You say that the line will carry Sonoma commuters to Marin workplaces.  Where did you get that data?

But as Chad indicates people are very used to driving their cars and in order to get them out of their cars, SMART has to be convenient to use, meaning providing parking close to the stations.  I'm sure there is a LOT of data to back up that assertion.

Again the heads up came from a family member living in Santa Rosa who tells me that none of the people he runs into up there are positive about the train.

Richard, I live in Petaluma and work in Marin.  My commute is about ten miles and fifteen minutes, so I'm not planning on commuting on SMART, but I don't get the same impression that your relative has that "none of the people he runs into up there are positive about the train."  There are a lot of fringe whackos that persistently deride it (look at the "comments" to the article you cited,) but what I'm seeing and hearing is a groundswell of support rising as the system comes closer to being operational.  People who commute (either direction) seem quite receptive and enthusiastic because 1) it will be much faster, 2) it will be less expensive, and 3) they can "enjoy the ride" and work while travelling to work.  (The fact that SMART will likely serve alcohol on board is also a big plus for some!)  Many people will still drive because they need their cars during the day, or whatever, but, bottom line, it seems that anybody who can make use of the system is eager to try it out.

I really don't think SMART is going to have any problem filling their seats. (Center-train units are now on order to expand capacity.)  What has to be recognized, however, is that any system like SMART will take a good while to really start to show its true value.  That will come when the population (inevitably) increases and the traffic (inevitably) thickens and the commute costs (inevitably) rise.  There is a "settling in" period where the people and the infrastructure adjust.  This is apparent with CalTrain on the Peninsula.  It was initially a system designed to bring commuters from south of San Francisco to the City.  It now carries probably as many, if not more, south from the City to Silicon Valley.  Younger people these days seem to prefer living in the urban environment with its attractions and are commuting out of the cities to work (go figure!)  Now the commute "tide" on CalTrain is running in both  directions at the same time!

I have the opportunity to hear "updates" from Farhad Mansourian on a fairly regular basis.  (At present, they are trying to get the food and beverage concessions and "passenger code of conduct" devised, but revenue operations should commence before the end of the year, so sayeth Farhad.)  One interesting development for many in Marin, who don't see a personal need for the "train to nowhere" for the moment, is that they will almost certainly  soon be taking SMART north to connect with the Santa Rosa airport, which is expanding service at breakneck speed.  There is a lot of airline traffic coming on line out of Charles Schultz Airport, including a large new state of the art terminal complex, and the easiest way to connect for anybody in Marin will be SMART, so, as they say, "the hits just keep on coming." 

SMART is like any "ahead-of-the-curve" infrastructure project.  They are all criticized when proposed and built as being "expensive boondoggles" that are not needed, but in ten or twenty years when everyone depends upon it and the cost to build it then would be five or ten times what it cost back when, everybody ends up saying, "I'm sure glad we had the foresight to build this great transit system (or whatever) because we couldn't live without it."

Oops!  You're absolutely correct.  I forgot about that recent change.  Additional AB units give them greater operational flexibility I'm told.  They say the C units can be ordered later.

But even short of having "C" units they should be able to concatenate multiple units together for larger passenger loads.  I see a major limitation problem of having too many trains on the line given the single track system and there is no yard in San Rafael to store more than two trains at a time, at least not yet.  

Bad News Bob, (a movie title?) anyway center cars are out for now. they had a grant for them, but they are not even designed yet. Good news is they got some more AB cars instead. EVENTUALLY I think there will be C cars.

Another thing no one has mentioned is the changing demographics. Many younger people don't have cars, maybe not even licenses. Those of us of a certain age range, may not have licenses in the not too distant future. The more paranoid amongst us (no one here I'm sure)  believe its a plot. But there ARE plans for "transit villages" near stations. 

And frankly, I plan to occasionally day trip to San Rafael/Cloverdale as the mood strike me just for the ride.

Oh, and during the early planning there was certainly an anti freight view from the board, and there were adamant testimonies made about using off the shelf commuter cars, both to save money and increase flexibility that were ignored.

Right, Steve, as per my comment above.  I forgot about the change of plans on the C unit orders.

I sure agree that the initial planning was in many instances quite poor.  The opposition to "smelly, noisy, diesel freight trains" was ridiculously ignorant.  Their failure to go with ground-level-loading existing rolling stock technology cost the project tens of millions of dollars.  The problem was, it appears, that people with no real heavy-rail transit experience thought they had a "blank check" to foist an "all the bells and whistles" system on a bunch of politicians who had absolutely no idea what they were doing.  That was the sack of manure Mansourian inherited when they finally wised up and got rid of the former director.

This isn't SMART's fault, nor certainly Mansourian's.  He's an engineer and complex construction project manager, and, as his accomplishments getting SMART built on schedule and way under budget demonstrate, a damn good one.  (He earned his paycheck several times over on the savings he accomplished on the Haystack Landing bridge alone.)  Imagine for a moment what a mess SMART was, and would still be, if the so-called "Board of Directors," (a bunch of small-time politicians with NO background in running a railroad, let alone building one) didn't have Mansourian to get the job done and keep them on the tracks, as it were.

The stations were sited long ago following extensive consultations with the local municipalities.  (So long ago, in fact, that the North Novato Atherton Station has already been rendered something of a white elephant by Fireman's Fund's closing, which took the 2,500 workers that station was supposed to serve out of the picture entirely.)  People around here are SO spoiled and entitled it is sickening.  Nobody refuses a job because the employer doesn't provide parking or bus service or otherwise kisses their butt, do they?  It's not SMART's, or any other transit system's obligation to provide mega-parking lots at each station so riders can get out of their car and jump into public transit without having to walk any father than they do to get to a supermarket at the mall.  Millions of people commute to Manhattan every day and very few of them enjoy the luxury of convenient parking right at their home station.  People learn to adjust, not to just snivel that life isn't handed to them on a silver platter.  Back east, those millions of commuters ride to the station on public street transportation or in car pools.  In fact, many people make "money on the side" by driving a pool mornings and evenings.  It all works very well.  We here on this forum all know that every passenger rail system built in the US in recent times has wildly exceeded all ridership projections and, as commute costs and time continue to increase, that is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future.  When the 101 widening between Novato and Santa Rosa is fully completed, there will likely be a significant exodus north into Sonoma County and, try as we will, that is going to increase population density in the urbanized areas.  (Look at what Graton Casino and the "wine tourists" alone have done to weekend traffic on 101!) When it takes four hours to get between Santa Rosa and San Rafael during commute times, trust me, people are going to take SMART, whether they have to take a feeder bus to the station or not!


I am trusting that you are right and that S-M residents will abandon their cars and jump onto the train.

But California is not the greater New York/New Jersey area where people are trained to use commuter rail transit and you can thank SP and GM in part for that negative train attitude as we here love our cars.  Just Google the Bay Bridge "Key System" for that story.

SMART must have ridership numbers in order to continue to maintain S-M taxpayer support for the project.  While you can fault the local municipalities for poor station planning, those memories in taxpayers minds have long faded away and the onus is on SMART management to provide the services needed to get resident commuters out of their automobiles.  This is Mansourian's job and while I have the highest regard for his ability to build a physical railroad system, remember the classic phrase about what doomed the railroad execs who lost sight of the passenger business.  "They thought they were in the railroad business rather than the 'transportation' business."

Don't think that SMART's building it and they will walk or ride to the stations will be the case.  That is fantasy.  My local Caltrain system here on the SF Peninsula is successful because they, not SP built very large parking lots around their train stations up and down the SF peninsula and paid for them via daily lot fees.  Now the Caltrain lots are full and employers here are paying for feeder shuttle buses to the stations but that is only because the system became in-demand because it had parking lots right next to the stations.  I commuted regularly to the SF from Palo Alto because I could drive from my house to the PA station, park in the lot for a reasonable and deductible fee and then drive back after taking the train into San Francisco.   This is the system and for the success of SMART Mansourian needs to get on with the program.        


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