Capdiamont\’s Weblog

Two rail related letters in NA
Wednesday 14 May 2008, 10:32
Filed under: Marin, NCRA, Novato, Railroad, SMART

Another run for your lives. The d word comes out here, diesel. It must be bad, never mind diesel is widely used in Europe, most buses use it here, and most trucks use it. Ignore that freeway 101 is close by the tracks there. They must be ok.

Marin has a high cancer rate, something needs to change. Relying on the same old highway, and expecting change isn’t going to work. Everywhere there is rail transit, there is a surge in usage as the costs of fuel goes up.

Hamilton SMART station a bad idea

A vocal minority has made it appear that most Hamilton residents are in favor of a Hamilton SMART station.

As Hamilton residents who do not live close to the proposed transit station, we join most of our neighbors in opposition, raising several issues for consideration:

• The character of Hamilton will change significantly.

At least one Novato City Councilmember noted that developments would follow at Hamilton or at any commuter station. The developments will likely include apartment buildings, condos, and office buildings, forever changing the character of the neighborhood. Scholarly reports are mixed regarding changes in values of single-family homes close to transit stations. Some may increase but many others will decrease in value.

• Model for Hamilton. The concept for Hamilton is a place for people to both live and work. A transit station encourages just the opposite. Don’t we want to encourage Hamilton employees to purchase new or resale homes in Hamilton? It is far “greener” to have hangar employees work and live in Hamilton.

• Children and safety. Station supporters say the Hamilton station—with added traffic, a 150-car parking lot, idling trains and a potential bus transfer station—will “benefit children.”

Children will be exposed to serious hazards under these circumstances, with three elementary schools located near the proposed station. One recent example is the train death of a San Bruno boy returning from a nearby skate park (April, 2008). The existing Hamilton skate park is within a few hundred feet from rails.

• Not a modern system. Light, electric rail requires different tracks and SMART is not proposing to lay these tracks. Diesel-driven trains will be needed and diesel fumes are hazardous to our health (especially to children and the elderly). Think of the nearby schools and skate park!

• Bus transfer station. With a train station, it would be difficult to argue against a Hamilton bus depot. Is this what we want at Hamilton?

• Ridership. SMART itself estimates 250 boardings maximum daily at Hamilton in the year 2025, a meaningless number having no impact whatsoever on 101 traffic.

There are no benefits and serious harm for Hamilton were a transit station to be built here.

Elvera and Alan Berson

Passenger and freight a win-win

Kudos to Dominic Grossi, President of the Marin County Farm Bureau, for his excellent analysis on page A5 of last week’s Advance of rail’s benefits and the win/win relationship between passenger and freight trains. Sharing fixed costs will improve SMART’s farebox recovery ratio and reduce its operating subsidy.

This will involve more than SMART and freight trains.

Bob Cleek, on the same page, mentions excursion trains. Our railroad has the potential to host the most successful tourist/excursion train service in the United States. Tourist trains between Healdsburg and Willits were hugely popular in 1996-97.

When the railroad was shut down, NCRA’s passenger contractors were holding 10,000 requests for tickets plus another 10,000 inquiries. But if Novato wants to get in on the action, it will have to stand in line behind Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

Intercity passenger trains are also in the picture: Think Santa Rosa to Sacramento in two hours and 10 minutes (estimated running time in a 1993-94 study). Amtrak holds first right of refusal to run intercity on the Northwestern Pacific and will certainly be a player.

It’s surprising that Supervisor Judy Arnold wasn’t aware that our railroad connects into the national rail system. Where else would the freight be coming from and going to? From Black Point the track goes through Port Sonoma, Sears Point, Schellville, Napa Junction, and Cordelia, connecting with Amtrak and Union Pacific at Suisun City. It’s the Redwood Empire’s lifeline. Not only is it more sustainable, it offers the ultimate in mobility. You don’t have to take four thousand pounds of iron, rubber and glass with you everywhere you go.

You just step on board, and that’s a big part of why it’s so much more cost-effective and relaxing than driving.

Lionel Gambill

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