The seats for the new Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit commuter rail cars have passed required safety tests, a month after failing the first round of testing.
A Petaluma man locked in a dispute with the SMART commuter rail system is hoping to draw track-side neighbors from all along the route to a meeting tonight to consider how to work together.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials are seeking $6.6 million in federal funds to buy more train cars, money that otherwise would be used for local pedestrian and bicycle paths.
‘SMART is committed to go to Cloverdale and to Larkspur and as you go farther, you need more vehicles,’ said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager.
SMART’s request is drawing fire from bicycle advocates because the rail agency would be taking the lion’s share of $9.9 million that Sonoma County is getting for such projects as bike lanes, sidewalk improvements, traffic lights, Safe Routes to Schools programs and even construction of SMART’s own pedestrian and bicycle path.
The Sonoma-Marin commute rail line is exempted from having to give local design review boards its plans for stations and buildings under legislation that was signed by the governor on Friday. Such local oversight, while only advisory in nature, may have let any single city along the 70-mile line attempt to hold up construction, rail officials said. The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District already was exempt from local planning and zoning regulations, they said.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District will create a consolidated headquarters in Petaluma, moving workers there from Santa Rosa and San Rafael. ‘We have a lot of staff constantly going back and forth. We are wasting a lot of time and talent and mileage,’ said SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian. SMART has eight administrative workers in its San Rafael offices, a dozen workers in the Santa Rosa construction office and is preparing to hire scores more as rail line reconstruction proceeds and the line gets closer to operating.
The Sonoma-Marin passenger rail agency is planning to build a future station at Airport Boulevard, where riders would be just a shuttle ride away from the Sonoma County airport. The station would become part of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District’s construction of an operations and maintenance facility on 6.6 acres that SMART is buying from the Sonoma County Water Agency.
The Sonoma-Marin commute rail agency, which expects to increase its workforce by five-fold within two years, is considering a pension plan for new employees that may be the stingiest among North Bay public agencies. The plan would raise the age for full pension eligibility, eliminate the bolstering of pensions with such things as specialty pay and spread the risk of cost increases to employees.
Bonds sold by the Sonoma-Marin commute rail agency are rated by financial analysts as stable investments, but still are graded below other Bay Area rail systems because the trains are not yet running.
Farhad Mansourian, head of the $60 million Sonoma-Marin commute rail project, went into the lion’s den Thursday, speaking to the Sonoma County Taxpayers’ Association. Mansourian, who has been SMART’s general manager for a year, spent an hour talking to the group, fielding questions, stressing the money he believes he has saved the district and defending the need for an alternative transportation system.
The SMART commuter rail cars that will run between Sonoma and Marin counties have passed federal crash tests, are in the final design stages and are on track to be delivered in October 2013. SMART is paying $49 million for 12 cars. The manufacturer hopes the new cars will become a standard in the United States.