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 group of property owners trying to organize a united front in dealing with the SMART rail line say they are not looking to derail the project, but merely provide a counterweight to the agency’s political and financial might.
‘The upgraded track increases our operations for north Santa Rosa and gets the trains back and forth to the operations and maintenance facility in a timely manner,’ said SMART Director Debora Fudge, a Windsor councilwoman. ‘It also gets us closer to the workers at the airport and halfway to Windsor.’
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.
If commute rail service begins in late 2015 as planned, it will be the first North Bay passenger service in six decades and the fastest. Train service would operate with computers controlling the signals, switches and communications to run five two-car trains at 30-minute intervals on a single track that will require passing on strategically placed sidings.
With the deadline six weeks away, organizers of an initiative to repeal the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit sales tax have about half the signatures they believe are needed to put a measure on the ballot. Clay Mitchell of Windsor, co-chairman of Repeal SMART, said about 100 volunteers have returned petitions, containing 7,500 signatures.
Four representatives from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency are in Japan this week to examine the rail car being considered for North Bay train service. SMART will pay the entire $12,000 cost of the visit. “It is like test-driving a car before you buy it. We want to know the type of workmanship we are getting,” spokesman Chris Coursey said.
A dispute between two public rail agencies threatens to sidetrack the return of freight trains to Sonoma County. North Coast Railroad Authority, which oversees freight trains, and Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which owns the tracks south of Healdsburg, can’t agree on joint operating rules.