Capdiamont\’s Weblog


MIJ: SMART train: Answers to promise and criticism
Sunday 24 Aug 2008, 10:40
Filed under: Marin, Railroad, SMART

Staff Report
Article Launched: 08/24/2008 12:02:30 AM PDT

THE BIG ISSUE on the November ballot in both Marin and Sonoma counties is the passage of Measure Q, a one-quarter cent sales tax to fund construction and operation of a commuter train between Cloverdale and Larkspur.

A similar effort led by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District failed in 2006. It carried Sonoma County with almost 70 percent of the vote, but its relatively weak 57.5 percent positive showing in Marin caused it to narrowly miss the needed two-thirds super majority, garnering a 65.3 percent “yes” votes in the two-county district.

Before the campaign gets under way, it’s time to look as the accuracy of some of the promises made by SMART as well as complaints emanating from its opponents.

– Will SMART solve the traffic jams on the freeway?

The simple answer is no. There is no realistic solution to the perpetual rush-hour traffic jam. Even widening Highway 101 will not do the trick. Suburban highway gridlock is a nationwide phenomenon caused by a land-use model based on single-family homes sprawled over a wide area. What SMART can do is provide an auto-free alternative.

– SMART will only help Sonoma.

Yes and no. The biggest effect of the commuter train will be to take Sonoma-residing workers to their jobs in Marin. As long as Marin refuses to build much low- priced housing, its labor force needs to live somewhere. Many logically choose more affordable Sonoma. It’s in Marin taxpayers’ interest to facilitate the commute for workers essential
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to the county’s economic health and to do so in an environmentally sensitive manner.

– There are other less costly solutions.

The reality is the retail clerks, office staff, restaurant workers and building trades employees who live in Sonoma County and form the backbone of Marin’s economy can’t telecommute. A separate busway costs almost as much as rail and will, like SMART, run through some San Rafael and Novato backyards and cause noise. Futuristic dreams such as a Jetsons-style monorail will be far more expensive than rail even in the unlikely event that their technical aspects are perfected. Remember, Buck Rogers technology costs big bucks. Anyone who claims their proposal will not cost taxpayers a cent is either a charlatan or hopelessly naive.

– SMART is 19th century technology.

Untrue. The Europeans, Japanese or Chinese are all expanding both their commuter and long-distance rail lines to 21st century standards. Modern rail systems are regarded worldwide as an environmentally sensitive way to move large numbers of travelers. It’s the single-passenger petroleum-propelled auto that represents the technology of the past.

– Will anyone ride SMART once its in operation?

That is a fair question with no definite answer. Will the trains run empty or will long-term spikes in gas prices boost patronage past SMART’s projections? Proponents of new rail systems tout ridership successes and opponents emphasize failures. If the numbers are substantial, the naysayers will disappear. If they tank, the North Bay will never hear the end of it. Of course, when the Golden Gate Bridge was proposed, some claimed that few would ever pay a toll to cross a highway bridge.

History shows with new commuter rail lines that people ride the train in higher numbers than what was projected. Fuel will only get more expensive. You have to start somewhere.

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3 Comments

Yes, we need to start somewhere.
I couldn’t be more in favor of the SMART Train.
It is not a single answer, but there is no single answer. It is an alternative, and a great one.
The bicycle path will be an alternative to a good number of people who travel shorter distances.
Tourism is a large part of Sonoma County economics and the train will fit nicely into that
aspect of our community.
I think the ridership of the train will grow and will probably even have surprising numbers of riders from the start.
Widening 101 is not a solution, but may increase other problems.
Do we want to promote traffic, pollution, increased asphalt and maintenance of it?
The SMART Train is a part of many answers to several overwhelming problems.
Let’s make a choice that will offer benefits other than traffic congestion as well as a direction away from auto traffic and it’s results…

Comment by Frank Balzerak

Smart Train…what could possibly go wrong?
– Cure traffic jams…NO. Everyone says its not the single answer.
– Sharing the track with routine rail service? Have you ever heard of a mishap in that scenario?
– How does routine rail service share the track with commuter trains running every 30 minutes?
– How do Smart trains run every 30 minutes on a single track? Are there dozens of trains that end up in Marin every morning, and then go north in the evening.
– What if someone wanted to commute in the other direction in the morning?
– Who owns the track? Smart train or the Railroad?
– Is Smart train’s tax for the Railroad upgrades or for Smart train upgrades.
– $450 million for the project? That’s if you could fund it today? or in 2007? Material and construction costs are excalating at 15 to 25% per year.
– Has a temporary tax for a project ever gone away after the project is done? Or, does it stay in effect to cover the overruns and the operating costs that never meet projections.
– Here’s my projection..$1.8 billion, and three years behind schedule, and the tax never goes away.
– My gut says the Smart Train is a front for having the taxpayers rebuild a failing rail system for the Railroad companies.
– Did you know that this stretch of rail was the only system in the country that the Railroad ever abandoned? Why? Because of numerous safety and environmental issues, and the cost to mitigate them.
– How the value of residential communities that have been built next to the “abandoned” rail? The homeowners are suffering enough with the value of their homes dropping. What will this do? I know! The Rail was there when the home was purchased, but, the rail was ABANDONED at the time!
– In case you can’t tell, I’m not quite sold on Smart Train.

Comment by Bob Smith

Cure traffic jams…NO. Everyone says its not the single answer.

The alternative is expanding 101. 800 Million alone to expand the Novato Narrows. That certainly worked well with Caltrans creating 10 mile backups, which also affected “express” and other buses on 101.

Is it better to limit choices?

Sharing the track with routine rail service? Have you ever heard of a mishap in that scenario?

It is still rare that it happens. Looks like Positive Train Control (PTC) will be in effect before SMART happens. That will further reduce the chances.

How does routine rail service share the track with commuter trains running every 30 minutes?
– How do Smart trains run every 30 minutes on a single track? Are there dozens of trains that end up in Marin every morning, and then go north in the evening.
– What if someone wanted to commute in the other direction in the morning?

A little misconception here. The mainline is single track, however sliding at stations and other places allow trains to meet in opposite directions, or pass a slower moving train going in the same direction. Thus allow the movement of freight train traffic and dual direction commuter traffic all day.

– Who owns the track? Smart train or the Railroad?
– Is Smart train’s tax for the Railroad upgrades or for Smart train upgrades.

SMART owns the track up to Healdsberg, and thus is a railroad. By railroad I assume you mean the NCRA the fright side. They have a freight easement north of the Novato wye. There is no plans to run freight south of the wye. I put that in because some of the ballot arguments by the anti-SMART folks were that freight trains were going to be going through San Rafael.

Did you know that this stretch of rail was the only system in the country that the Railroad ever abandoned? Why? Because of numerous safety and environmental issues, and the cost to mitigate them.
– How the value of residential communities that have been built next to the “abandoned” rail? The homeowners are suffering enough with the value of their homes dropping. What will this do? I know! The Rail was there when the home was purchased, but, the rail was ABANDONED at the time!

Wrong. Abandonment is an official process. Simple non use of a railroad, unlike say cars does not make it abandoned. SP attempted to abandon it, but the process was never completed. The process must be completed through the Surface Transportation Board. Thus trains can come back.

Federal Railroad Authority(FRA) did close it for safety concerns, not environmental issues. No abandonment has taken place. Trains can come back.

$450 million for the project? That’s if you could fund it today? or in 2007? Material and construction costs are excalating at 15 to 25% per year.

per smart’s last finance doc

$541 million (in 4th Quarter,2008 dollars). This total consists of
$450 million for the rail project and $91 million for the bicycle/pedestrian pathway.

Comment by capdiamont




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