WatchSonoma Watch

Year delay ahead for Sonoma-Marin commute train


Trains could be delayed a year or more on the Santa Rosa-San Rafael commute rail line and the cost is now estimated to be $45 million more than anticipated, transit officials said Friday.

The agency may not get the regional, state and federal regulatory permits it needs to begin work next year in the wetlands, creeks and rivers the tracks traverse, according to a two-month financial review by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district.

“If you can’t get into those areas to work in April or May, you have lost a whole year” because of environmental limits, said Bill Gamlen, SMART’s chief engineer.

The beginning of train service, now scheduled for 2014, could be delayed by one to two years, Gamlen said.

Even though the total cost has risen to $380 million, money-saving measures and an uptick in sales tax revenue will more than offset the increase, said Fahrad Mansourian, Marin’s public works director, who is on loan to SMART as a temporary executive director.

A delay in operations would be the latest setback for the commute rail plan, which was approved by voters in Sonoma and Marin counties, along with a quarter-percent sales tax hike in 2008.

The measure promised a 70-mile line from Larkspur to Cloverdale. But declining sales tax revenues and a weak bond market forced the SMART board to downsize, settling for a initial 37-mile line from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael.

The latest report comes six months after Lillian Hames stepped down as general manager, a position SMART now hopes to fill next month.

The new estimates of costs and revenues were developed in the past two months and result from having more information about actual construction costs, Mansourian said.

“We have moved from the conceptual stage to the design stage … we have more detail,” he said.

The results were released Friday to meet a deadline by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to qualify SMART for $10 million in funding from the MTC, $8 million from Transportation Authority of Marin and $3 million from the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

“SMART with more detail is a balanced and fully funded project,” Mansourian said. “We are moving forward to issue construction bonds and request for bids for the first phase next month.”

SMART’s opponents remain critical of the project and skeptical of the increased cost and revenue estimates.

“I realize it is not an exact science to project these numbers, but it makes me really cautious to trust any projections going forward,” said Clay Mitchell of Windsor, a member of Repeal SMART.

Mitchell is also critical of any delay in the beginning of service.

Delaying service would save $12 million a year in operating costs, but voters will not get the transit service they are paying for and putting money meant for operations into construction seems unfair, Mitchell said.

SMART had estimated it would cost $335 million to build the first segment from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael and would have enough money to pay for it, with the additional MTC, Marin and Sonoma county funds.

MTC had asked SMART to reaffirm by Wednesday that the costs had not risen.

Now that the cost has now gone up to $380 million, the regional planning agency said it wanted assurances that the SMART project is fully funded.

“We deal with these projects, and costs move around, usually upward,” said Randy Rentschler, MTC’s manager of legislative and public affairs. “We care a lot less about what the final price is. What we care about is it is fully funded, what we care about is to get something delivered.”

The major cost increase of $26­million comes from the higher pricetag for signal and communications equipment. A train control system required by new federal regulations allows trains to be tracked and controlled from a central operations facility.

However, Mansourian said that while the technology is required by the Federal Railroad Administration, it has not yet been developed.

Other rising costs include $11­million more for a maintenance facility, $10 million in engineering and professional services, $4­million for the San Rafael line, $2.8 million for track quiet zones, $1.6 million in tracks and bridges,and $750,000 for service vehicles and trucks.

Additional expenses come from adding equipment and construction that had been deferred in earlier cost-cutting. They include $4.3 million for a fare collection system, $3.4 million for closed-circuit TV and $5 million to rebuild the Novato Creek Bridge. SMART directors had deferred those items.

The newly found savings and revenues come from a variety of sources.

They include saving $4.5 million by building simpler stations, $6 million by eliminating a second set of tracks at stations, and $10 million by working with the North Coast Railroad Authority to restrict freight service during track construction.

SMART also saves $5 million by reducing its inflation factor, and $10.2 million by reducing its contingency fund by 5 percent.

And the agency is increasing its sales tax forecast to 4 percent, increasing revenue by $22 million.

The report and recommendations go the SMART board on Aug. 17.

David Heath, SMART chief financial officer, said the sale tax forecasts and other financial assumptions will be reviewed by several analysts, including Robert Eyler, director of Sonoma State University’s Regional Center for Economic Analysis.


38 Responses to “Year delay ahead for Sonoma-Marin commute train”

  1. ExRPeer says:

    People, PLEASE talk to your family, friends,neighbors etc. about the repeal process. I’m still tring to convince a family member who will vote again and again for a dead end track to nowhere because he thinks it would be cool. Cool my asrk, his very Liberal attitude is “taxes are going to go up anyway”. This blog is very informative but a lot of people in this area more worried about the Giants or ?? than their pocket book. We have to stop preaching to the choir and do a lot of legwork. THANKS

  2. ODB414 says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It took 8 times on the ballot for them to finally get this thing approved. We should be allowed at least 1 chance to have it repealed.

  3. John T says:

    Brad Atkins says:
    “There are no progressives or moderates on this board. It’s a Tea Party Echo Chamber.”

    Just because someone wants to see their tax dollars spent wisely doesn’t automatically make them a member of the Tea Party.

    What puzzles me is that many who are for this train aren’t screaming just as loud for their tax dollars to be spent wisely?

    Tea Party spokesperson Sarah Palin supported the “bridge to nowhere.” The other end of the political spectrum here supports the “train to nowhere.”

    At first glance it appears neither support group gave a hoot about the wasted tax dollars.

    One can only hope the “train to nowhere” suffers the same fate as the “bridge to nowhere.”

  4. Jay says:

    SMART hardly equals progressive. I’m a progressive, a democrat, a tree hugger, etc. and think the SMART train has proven what many suspected all along; boondoggle.

    To paraphrase The Princess Bride;

    “Progressive, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

  5. Brad Atkins says:

    There are no progressives or moderates on this board. It’s a Tea Party Echo Chamber.

  6. Billy C says:

    I am reading a lot of negative stuff here.
    can some progressives chime in and tell us that things are going as planned?
    That this train is still a good idea even if the first segment was $100 Million over budget? Is it OK with the the people who voted for this that NOTHING will be delivered the when promised and may cost us twice as much?
    Surly the people who pushed so hard for this must have an opinion. Are you OK with this?
    I am all for a train I am just feeling
    like we the public have been defrauded
    or purposely been misled. I can not imagine our elected representatives could be this this naive or incompetent.

  7. jobob94928 says:

    Marin County
    Judy Arnold – Vice-Chair, Marin County Board of Supervisors

    Kathrin Sears – Marin County Board of Supervisors

    Al Boro – Mayor of the City of San Rafael

    Carole Dillon-Knutson – Novato City Council

    Stephanie Moulton-Peters – Mill Valley City Council

    Sonoma County
    Valerie Brown – Chairwoman, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

    Debora Fudge – Windsor City Council

    Jake Mackenzie – Rohnert Park City Council

    Carol Russell – Cloverdale City Council

    Shirlee Zane – Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

    Golden Gate Bridge and Highway Transportation District
    Barbara Pahre – SMART Board of Directors, GGBHTD Board

    Jim Eddie – GGBHTD Board

    These are the same folks that are incharge of your local cities facing huge budget short falls

    I remember when the station was built in cloverdale how long ago was that ?? 15+ years ago

    Time to burn the weeds down so there is no where left to hide

    Just some lite reading to pass your day


  8. Steve Klausner says:

    @Clay Mitchell
    Thank you for the good numbers.

    Does anyone know what this hobby train has cost in state, federal, and local money since it’s inception? It seems like every time this thing has failed at the ballot millions of dollars poured from elsewhere to keep the project alive.

    I’d love to see a full history of the public funding of this rail line. Should include the sales pitch for a deep water container port in Eureka to ship goods to where…San Rafael?

  9. Phil Maher says:

    @Clay- I’m sorry, but you know how I get when I don’t take my meds and the non-visionary, train and bike-hating Luddite side of me takes over, with all those nasty, repressed habits like demanding accountability and honesty. I’m better now, and I guess I should take this moment to thank the SMART Board, God, staff, all the consultants who’ve spent years miscalculating costs, and Farhad Mansourian for the “tireless” and bang-up job they’re doing at not only ushering in the future of transportation with their insights and wisdom, but for doing all they can to provide us with so much “transparency”. As a matter of fact, I say we just give them a $5mil credit for their fantastic stewardship of our money, at least some of just about every other agency’s money, and for helping us all to understand what really matters in life.

  10. John Parnell says:

    @ Steveguy – It isn’t that difficult to request a Grand Jury investigation. You just need to fill out a Citizen’s Complaint Form & send it in the mail. It is available at the web sites for both Sonoma & Marin.


    @ Mr. Obvious – Unfortunately, we will not make the November ballot, but hope to have it on the ballot next Spring. If you’d like to help, please join us at:

    http://www.repealsmart.org or

  11. @Steveguy-

    I wish it were only $6-$10 of subsidy for a $5 fare.

    Actually, current farebox recovery ratio is only 23% (and the MTC said they feel even that is estimated too high).

    That means that for every dollar that a rider pays in fare, taxpayers will be contributing $3.35. That means for a $5 fare, the subsidy amount would be $16.75.

    And while they can sell a little advertising to offset some of that, we still are projected to have to subsidize it in a big way- almost as bad as Portland (22% farebox recovery, and jam-packed freeways at rush hour).

    @Truthinnews- Europe does not have the best rail system in the world- Asia does. In fact, the systems in Tokyo, Taiwan and Hong Kong (as well as two other major Japanese metros) actually turn a profit- in the 20%-70% range. But that is due to the population densities of major metro areas…. oh, yeah- and the fact that those are all ISLANDS with very little land available.

    @Phil- I can’t believe that you are quibbling over $5 million- that is so inconsequential when we are dealing with the North Bay’s biggest and most visionary public works project ever! $5 million here, $5 million there- sooner or later, it might add up to some real money! ;)

    Besides, remember that what we are shooting for with our projections is “conservative and reasonable”- accuracy is secondary, and clearly not a priority. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.

  12. Steveguy says:

    I think that these situations, where the Public Trust has been broken by lies and possible corruption is just what Grand Jury was created for.

    I know it will cost, but I think that there should be a Grand Jury investigation into this boondoggle.

    I don’t know how to do that. Nor do I know how to sue over their self-approved EIR.

    If the claim is that they now ‘own’ BILLIONS in real estate, then why can’t they get financing ? If I owned BILLIONS, I could get a loan easy, and wouldn’t have to ruin the bus system by draining off of funds for it.

    For just the money they waste, we could all commute in hybrid limos.

  13. srk says:

    “fox guarding the hen house”?

    Actually it is more like the goose feeding the chickens. Not much feed left for the chickens after the goose gets done.

  14. Greg Karraker says:

    “The major cost increase of $26 million comes from the higher pricetag for signal and communications equipment. A train control system required by new federal regulations allows trains to be tracked and controlled from a central operations facility.

    However, Mansourian said that while the technology is required by the Federal Railroad Administration, it has not yet been developed.”

    I guess we’ll just have to build the technology before we see what’s in it.

  15. Phil Maher says:

    OOOPS- the current project costs being used by the MTC are $330mil (page 8-9 of the agenda packet below), not $335mil as Mansourian claims. Add in another $5mil to that $45mil shortfall. Also, I’m not clear on where Bob got his numbers from, but Mansourain’s total cost estimate for the IOS is clearly stated on page 1 at just under $404mil, not $380mil. And it also appears that SMART’s ability to determine whether to curtail freight ops during construction for an additional $10mil in savings is also in question. That’s not only a matter that requires federal approval, and is highly unlikely, but it also appears to be news to NWP, as opposed to Mansourian’s further statement on page 8 of the attachments to his report that claims “discussions with NWP indicate preliminary agreement”.

    Looks more like they potentially have at least another $15mil to contend with, not to mention several other glaring omissions and incorrect assumptions that are full of holes and shortened timeline projections that don’t reflect an honest and complete view of the IOS, much less the cuts that it’s undergone or the second phase… and so it continues with more of the same, and with only 30% of the design phase complete. Confidence instilling, huh? One thing’s for sure- if they ever do build it, even though it might not ever do what it was supposed to, at least then we’ll (and SMART) will finally know how much it all costs.


  16. Kevin says:

    These financial findings were generated within SMART by SMART personnel. This is truly the fox guarding the hen house. To say nothing of the fact that engineers know almost nothing about actual building costs.
    Imagine the horrors an independent audit might discover about the actual level of dysfunction and breakdown in the SMART organization, which has truly gone off the tracks.
    I wonder how much money has been thrown away already by SMART, with literally nothing to show for it.

  17. seen it all says:

    The only thing that is certain about the SMART boondoggle is that the Board members and staff will continue to collect pay checks, perks and finally pensions. This will drag out for another 20 years to guarantee those pensions.

  18. Joe Right says:

    Is there anyone involved with the “SMART” rail that has ever had any experience with a railroad?

  19. Lets Reconsider This says:

    How is it that hundreds of millions of tax dollars are being spent on a commuter train that will serve very few commuters? All of this being done while at the same time the cities and counties of Sonoma and Marin are cutting back on essential services such as schools, health care and road maintenance?

    This is similar to the kings of old Europe who lived in palaces and rode in golden carriages while many in the population starved. Money misspent then as now with SMART.

    We need basic services in this economy, not pipe dreams. We need to improve our schools, our roads, water and city infrastructure before building a train to nowhere. SMART is not the future and is draining needed funds away from essential public needs and projects.

  20. Who is Responsible says:

    This is only the beginning. When the weeds are growing in the SMART train stations that never happened and the tracks that never carried a SMART passenger are rusting, the politicans who so vocally supported this waste of tax money will have long since run into the weeds for cover.

    SMART, the train, the land purchases and vast amounts of tax money spend will have to be explained and accounted for.

    If the SMART Board delays it long enough they can leave town with their pensions and claim they were mislead by the consultants and bureaucrats on the costs.

    After all, all they wanted was a hiking trail and some new housing projects. How did it all go so wrong?????

  21. srk says:

    “Wow, Billions of dollars worth of land ?? We voted you BILLIONS of $$$$$$ worth of land ??”

    So now you get it? this was never about transportation, it has always been about real estate.

    1st we gave the land to the rail barons, then we bought it back. Now we’re paying to give it away again. Makes them folks in Sebastopol and Sonoma look kind of clever. They’re paying the sales tax, but at least they got trails instead of condos to show for it.

  22. Steveguy says:

    The lies will continue, and we will be fleeced of hundreds of millions.

    Thanks for voting for 1/2 the project at twice the price with low ridership.

    Every ticket may be costing the taxpayers between $6-10 dollars for a 5 Dollar fare ? We don’t really know the fare comparison, as they have lied about it or hidden any information. ( I hope someone can check SMART’s ongoing phony numbers in detail) Sue for it.

    By the way, wouldn’t a close by quarry be cheaper and greener for the rail bed of the SMART Train ? The folks that sue say not. Lets sue the EIR and shut the thing down now. Same tactics can go both ways.

  23. Mr. Obvious says:

    SMART is a train wreck. A complete train wreck. Tons of money suck into this financial black hole and no public benefit ever comes out. How much longer until it’s on the ballot???

  24. Steveguy says:

    “We care a lot less about what the final price is. What we care about is it is fully funded, what we care about is to get something delivered.”

    Excuse, some of us call that fraud. Blind spending to help out the cronies.

    Just who are the so-called ‘consultants’ and how much money did they contribute to passing this boondoggle ? We were duped,and they laugh all the way to the bank.

    Did they pass on their own EIR, complicit in a bad EIR ? I would challenge the EIR, as that is exactly what these type do to stop other projects in their tracks.

    We should lawsuit this thing to oblivion, even if it costs us only ” Tens of Millions ” (per the report if SMART was stopped) as the Executive Director said, or we can waste HUNDREDS of MILLIONS.

    Oh wait, we have to fulfill those obligations to consultants and developers, because THEY put up the money. And they want more, much more.

    Seriously, the EIR is used to stop or slow EVERY private project, and they voted themselves a clean EIR. The lefties demand it from the freight trains, why not the DUMB train ?

    Delay them until we can stop this mess. Inform the Public of a $500 million boodogle for 1/2 a train. ( Yes, their numbers will be false)

  25. Social Dis-Ease says:

    See. get involved, expose the truth. If local government is unresponsive, unfortunatly you may have to go legal. If they could have slipped the Smart train through, they would have. It’s like Redevelopment; if it ever went to a VOTE-people would vote it down by a huge margin. They know that. Let’s get people in there that are PUBLIC SERVANTS-not ICLEI SERVANTS. Until that happens, expect local government to be unresponsive to your input. Now that Smart is in jeopardy, it’s time to change the general plan back to the American plan and off the ICLEI vertical sprawl plan. Kudos to the Smart resistance. It’s smart to resist.

  26. Steveguy says:

    From the report : !!!!!!!!

    In the environment in which every private & public agency’s revenue has been affected,
    phasing the project with a reduced initial scope in response to the current economic
    downturn is the proper course. SMART critics recommend that your Board simply fold. In
    my considered view, this is not a viable option. SMART has tens of millions of dollars in
    current contracts which it is legally obligated to pay; SMART owns billions of dollars of
    property that unless maintained will become an impossible task for overburdened Marin and
    Sonoma cities/counties to manage. Opponents talk about what SMART is not. I believe it
    infinitely more appropriate to talk about what SMART is.
    Wow, Billions of dollars worth of land ?? We voted you BILLIONS of $$$$$$ worth of land ??

    Must have been in the fine print.

  27. Phil Maher says:

    July 23, 2011 at 11:45 am

    And wait just a minute here. Aside from only mentioning that such large projects are commonly phased, why does Mansourian not take into consideration, or even make mention of the financials for the entire project for the $162 per hour that he’s being paid? SMART might want to divert our attention from what WAS actually promised to the voters so that they can gain a foothold into our continued patronage and financial support with only 37 miles of track and in order to call their efforts successful, but the fact still remains that they currently have no idea how to go beyond what they propose now, and the IOS is by no means all there is to it. They’ve lost the forest through the IOS’s trees. It’s as though the other half of the project never existed. Not only is this apparent approach not acceptable, the entire system should be the ruling consideration at all points of the planning process. Saying we’ll get what we voted for is one thing, but not having any idea how to obtain it and making it a part of every discussion or report written on the future of the SMART system is absolutely inexcusable. The whole system is what we were promised, and those numbers are what we should be demanding to see presented…right here and right now, and before we commit to another penny!!


  28. Steveguy says:

    I don’t trust any of their numbers.

    We did not vote for this boondoggle.

    Now, they vote themselves and their cronies money by sitting on multiple Boards. That should be criminal.

  29. Skippy says:

    Europe is not America. They have trains everywhere, and have for more than 100 years. Their rail infrastructure was not torn up(Rodota trail, anyone?)and Euro govt’s make it ridiculously expensive to own and drive your own car. They have put their populations on trains and they want them to stay there.
    In America we tend to go where we want when we want and are long out of the habit of waiting for trains.
    Two continents; two cultural philosophies; two different outcomes.
    Similarly, in E. Europe, the oppressive communist regimes never installed telephone lines, as they had no interest in the people communicating with each other.
    Then the USSR and their satellite slave-states collapsed just as cellular technology emerged.
    Result? All the phones there are cells. The wired phone lines and poles will never be installed. Ever. They are obselete.
    Think of trains the same way.
    A 19th century answer to a 21st century problem.
    SMART is an idea whose time has come…and gone.

  30. GAJ says:

    From the article:

    “We care a lot less about what the final price is. What we care about is it is fully funded, what we care about is to get something delivered.”

    All I can say is wow, just wow!

    Those paying for this boondoggle should take this attitude as a huge red flag.

  31. srk says:

    @truth in news
    I believe you owe Marin an apology. They have been most generous in providing sales tax monies considering the fact that unlike Santa Rosa, they will have no shopping centers adjacent to stations. They have also ponied up millions that would have gone to pothole repair. This is all for a system they not likely to get much use out of.

    Now let’s look for the real greed. Intensive development using public money and public lands is planned around stations in Sonoma County. Not so in Marin. SMART owned real estate is going to be used for new housing, not parking. Does anyone remember voting for this stuff?

    There is going to be some serious profiteering and here’s the rub, Once they have their hands on these properties, they’re not going to really care if the train is running or not.

  32. Greg Karraker says:

    Memo to Global Economy:

    Please adjust your 10-year rate of inflation to a lower number that matches our new projection so we can build our cool train.

    Thanx bunches,

    Fahrad :)


  33. Western Cluebird says:

    Please remember this the next time some great sounding proposal comes up for a vote.
    Don’t vote for anything that will cost us more money, until we have straightened out the problems in Sacramento, and have more trustworthy leadership.I did not vote for the SMART train for this reason.

  34. truth in news says:

    I find it amazing how europe can have the best rail system in the world, providing the transportation of goods and services in a timely manner across a contenitent and we can not even complete 70 miles of rail. We should be ashamed of our greed and ignorance. (Yes Marin, I mean you.)

  35. Karla Sofen says:

    How about we delay it forever and save the 500 million? No one voted for THIS. How many more such stores have to be published? Do we have to put Tiger Salamanders and Spotted Owls along the proposed tracks?

  36. It's Doable says:

    SMART is another great example of the 2 billion dollar government hammer. The tragedy is that it seems to keep on going in spite of millions and millions in cost overruns, startup delays and a substantial and ever decreasing service offering.

    What has gone wrong? Fiscal forescasting is a foreign concept unknown to the SMART bureaucrats, consultants and engineers hired by SMART to figure out how much this turkey was going to cost to bring it to market.

    The whole project was under funded from the beginning. The taxpayers were mislead by the SMART Board from the beginning about the benefits of the project, the scope of the project, the costs and the time frame for startup.

    In the real world of business, people would be fired and the whole project reevaluated to determine its viability. But not at SMART. They continue to muddle on all the while spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars on an unneeded and unwanted commuter train that was out of date before the SMART planners sat down to dream about it.

    It is time for a government agency to look into the viability of SMART given the economy, the taxing structure for SMART and its real purpose. A real audit is certainly required by an independent auditor not hired by SMART to continue to give the board rosey projects and conclusions. Better yet, put the project on hold and stop spending tax money on this money pit.

  37. John T says:

    “And the agency is increasing its sales tax forecast to 4 percent, increasing revenue by $22 million.”

    “SMART also saves $5 million by reducing its inflation factor, and $10.2 million by reducing its contingency fund by 5 percent.”

    Echos of budget balancing stunts recently done in Sacramento?

    I wish I was surprised by all this.

  38. Phil Maher says:

    SMART has gone through so many changes that have had to be rethought and recalculated, but the one thing they never seem to factor in is that maybe those changes that need to also be examined are the changes in the support they once had from the voters in light of all that’s happened. It’s become an US vs Them conflict. Isn’t this our project, our future and our money?

    As part of RepealSMART, I get to see all the different faces of the increasing numbers of people reaching out, pleading for somebody to please do something about this. While we certainly have those among us that have never agreed with this project ever, and never will, the vast, vast majority of those people are one-time SMART supporters who now feel cheated and misled. RepealSMART is not as simple as a small group of people who “hate” anything and merely want to dissolve the entire project and make it go away. This is about people who feel disenfranchised and want nothing more than to be afforded the same luxury that SMART has enjoyed for years-the opportunity to examine the current circumstances and to cast their vote based on what they see and feel now. For SMART to willfully, arrogantly and callously deny the people, regardless of sentiment or outcome, that opportunity is at the heart of not only why we feel forced and compelled to be doing what we are, and why people are growing ever more suspicious of SMART’s motives and tactics in particular, it’s the basis for everything that most of them feel has gone horribly awry with our government and society.

    Why isn’t what’s fair for some fair for others? Why are we being told what’s best for us and dictated to, instead of being given a free voice in helping to determine our collective future as partners? Why are we being forced to live with what many of us now feel was a massively egregious error in judgement, with no chance to correct it, while at the same time, SMART can go through such constantly repeated massive upheavals of costs and scope on a regular basis, only to alter course at will? Why are we being forced to demand our rights, instead of them being given to us because we’ve earned and deserve them?

    SMART wants our faith, our trust, our support, and massive amounts of our money, but at every turn, shows us that they don’t offer us the same. Is a small, good faith gesture like voting too much to ask in return?