Capdiamont\’s Weblog

SRD: [SMART and Sprinter] Trains on parallel tracks
Sunday 28 Sep 2008, 10:31
Filed under: bicycle, Railroad, SMART, trails, transit

I love the comment, that the author of this article must have been offered a job at SMART. Does this mean most newspapers in Marin and Sonoma have journalists that are promised jobs at SMART. Not likely. Notice Sprinter is expected to have a cost per mile, less than half of Sprinter.

Update: I added the link, sorry.


Published: Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 4:44 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 4:44 a.m.

Brian Gaynor steps aboard a commuter train in San Marcos in San Diego County with a 7-foot surfboard tucked under one arm.
Photos by KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat
Brian Gaynor, 51, of San Marcos uses the Sprinter to get to and from the beach in Oceanside. The Sprinter, located in northern San Diego County, ferries students, seniors, business professionals and others from Oceanside to Escondido, a 22-mile route through the Highway 78 corridor.

Gaynor, 51, settles into the contoured, cushioned seat of a streamlined Sprinter car, California’s newest mass transit system and only the second of its kind in the United States.

Forty minutes later, Gaynor gets off at the western end of the 22-mile line through northern San Diego County, just a block from the sand and surf at Ocean-side.

“I haven’t been driving for a while,” says Gaynor, who’s been riding the rail line almost daily — on a $59 monthly pass — since it started running March 9.

The Sprinter, a tax-subsidized light-rail system, offers a preview of what Sonoma and Marin counties will get — minus the beachfront station — by approving a quarter-cent sales tax, called Measure Q, on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The tax measure requires two-thirds voter approval to help pay for the 70-mile commuter train between Cloverdale and Larkspur proposed by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit Agency, known as SMART.

Narrowly rejected by voters in 2006, the SMART tax sequel would help underwrite a $450 million train intended to carry 5,300 people a day along the Highway 101 corridor in the two North Bay counties.

A quarter-cent sales tax for billions of dollars in transportation projects, including the Sprinter, was approved by San Diego County voters in 1987 and renewed in 2004.

There are differences in scale and geography between SMART and the Sprinter, which is now ferrying 8,650 people a day — students, commuters, surfers, seniors, disabled and homeless — along the Highway 78 corridor from Oceanside to Escondido.

But they are both suburban rail systems, serving roughly equal populations at a similar price tag. Both lines parallel a major highway, running on rebuilt freight tracks.

The 135-foot-long, aluminum-hulled Sprinter cars, each one propelled by a pair of 420-horsepower diesel engines, are similar to the cars SMART would operate. Only one other U.S. transit system, the River LINE running 34 miles between Trenton and Camden, N.J., since 2004, uses the same type of cars.

SMART advocates say the proposed train will ease congestion on Highway 101, reduce carbon emissions and boost economic development in Santa Rosa and other cities on the line.

Critics say it costs too much, the tax will be a burden and the train won’t make the home-to-work connections needed by a suburban population.

‘Train to nowhere’

While the Sprinter links in Oceanside with a commuter train to San Diego and the Amtrak system, SMART dead-ends at Larkspur. Critics call it a “train to nowhere”; backers say there will be a free shuttle to the Larkspur ferry terminal.

The Sprinter paid $52 million for a dozen German-made cars, which hum along continuous, welded-steel rails at a top speed of 55 mph, covering the 22-mile route, with 15 stops, in 53 minutes. The trains run every half-hour from about 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, with a shortened schedule on weekends. The basic one-way fare is $2. Oversized windows afford passengers a view of the rolling hills, back yards and commercial areas along the line.

The SMART system, which does not yet have a specific time schedule, would have 14 trips a day running every 30 minutes, concentrated during the morning and evening commute hours along with a midday run. It also would have four round trips on Saturdays and Sundays. The 14-station route from Cloverdale to Larkspur would take about 90 minutes, while the trip from Santa Rosa to Larkspur would be about 58 minutes. The average fare would be $4.50, depending on the length of the trip.

Out of the traffic

Jeanne Whitworth, wearing a dark blue jacket and skirt, settles into a Sprinter car at the Oceanside Transit Center, awaiting the four-stop ride to Rancho del Oro, where she lives. Whitworth, who works in downtown San Diego, commutes weekdays on both the Sprinter and the Coaster, a conventional Amtrak-style train, which intersect at Oceanside.

The two trains take an hour and a half. Whitworth, 42, could be home 15 minutes earlier if she drove there from Oceanside. “But I don’t have to fight the traffic,” she says, and she’s saving a tank of gas every month. “It’s like getting a raise.”

Whitworth’s only complaints: you can eat and drink on the Coaster, but not on the spotless new Sprinter cars. “They’re cold, too,” she says.

A cool ride

The Sprinter needs robust air-conditioning because there’s as much as a 25-degree temperature difference between coastal and often-cloudy Oceanside and sunny, often-hot inland Escondido, said Tom Kelleher, spokesman for the North County Transit District, which operates the Sprinter.

The new train serves a suburban corridor that includes four cities — Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido — where more than half a million people live. In operation for six months, the Sprinter is moving toward the forecast of 11,600 passengers a day by the end of its first year, Kelleher said.

Building the SMART line and buying 14 diesel-powered cars is expected to cost about $450 million, plus $90 million more for a bike path along the 70-mile route. The Sprinter cost $484 million, not counting bike paths that are separately funded and being built in segments. The Sprinter’s $22 million-per-mile cost is the lowest of 10 Southern California transit projects developed in the past 20 years. (SMART is expected to cost less than $6.5 million per mile, not counting the bike path.)

“I think we really got our money’s worth,” Kelleher said.

‘A poor investment’

Not everyone agrees.

“It’s a poor investment, a continuing drain on the budget,” says Dick Cooke, a former Vista city councilman. From the time the Sprinter was pitched to Vista in 1996, Cooke said he spotted a fiscal albatross.

“People weren’t going to get out of their cars,” Cooke says at a restaurant around the corner from the Sprinter’s Vista Transit Center. “I could see that was not going to happen.”

Cooke, a retired Marine Corps major-general, contends that $500 million would have been better spent adding two more lanes to six-lane Highway 78. He’s also critical of the train’s taxpayer subsidy, saying that everyone riding the Sprinter “is getting a free ticket to some degree.”

San Diego regional planners, with help from Caltrans, estimated the cost of adding another lane in each direction on Highway 78 at $650 million, one-third more than the Sprinter system.

Cooke said he never has and never will ride the Sprinter, and he advises North Bay voters to reject the SMART tax. “I would say fight it like hell.”

Uses rebuilt line

The Sprinter rolls smoothly, without the familiar “clickety-clack” of regular trains, on new rails made of 1,240-foot segments, seamlessly welded together. For the Sprinter, the transit district rebuilt a deteriorating freight line, dating from the 1880s, installing concrete railroad ties.

SMART will make the same improvements along the former Northwestern Pacific Railroad track, now owned by the public agency and already including some welded rail segments.

Genentech, the biotechnology firm, provides free shuttle service for employees from its Oceanside manufacturing plant to a Sprinter station. The company also contributes up to $115 for employees’ monthly transit passes.

By making it easier for employees to get to and from work, Genentech “can help them reduce some of the stress in their lives,” company spokeswoman Caroline Pecquet said.

Packed parking lots at Sprinter stations are proof the new train is taking cars off Highway 78, said Ted Owen, president of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce. He also expects the stations to become hubs for new commuter-catering businesses, such as gift and coffee shops, dry cleaners and bookstores.

“They will do well,” he said.

At the North County Transit District office in Oceanside, Kelleher notes that the Highway 78 corridor is underdeveloped. “We think the Sprinter is going to be a catalyst for future development,” he said.

Other cities are considering similar trains, and BART plans to build a 10-mile extension along the Highway 4 median between Pittsburg and Antioch, also using self-propelled diesel cars.

‘I don’t even use my car’

Brian Gaynor’s surfboard is a foot longer than the Sprinter allows, but the ticket agents and transit guards don’t mind. He stows the board in the overhead luggage rack, leaving him free to read and write letters as the train rolls toward the sea.

Sometimes he brings his bike aboard, too, and runs his errands on two wheels. “Now I don’t even use my car,” he says.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or



Thank you!
Very interesting article, anywhere before anything like this unreadable, is rarely found in the network once again want to thank the sponsors.

Comment by DATING

Good stuff, I “Stumbled” you. My DIGG account got messed up but I like Stumbling better anyway.

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