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Novato Advance: Feb. 11 public meeting to pick SMART railcars by
Saturday 7 Feb 2009, 07:09
Filed under: Marin, Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Railroad, SMART, transit

Novato Advance: Feb. 11 public meeting to pick SMART railcars by.

Rail vehicle manufacturers from around the world will make presentations in Marin County on Feb. 11 as officials of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District move toward a key decision: What kind of railcars will carry passengers on the 70-mile passenger train line between Cloverdale and Larkspur?

Vehicle selection is a top priority for SMART, because it affects so many other elements of the project. The type of vehicle running on the line impacts project budget, schedule and operations of both passenger service and freight service and other critical design decisions such as sidings, boarding platforms, train control systems, maintenance facility and others.

SMART plans to use Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) railcars. Unlike traditional trains comprised of locomotives pulling long lines of passenger cars, DMUs are self-contained vehicles with engines below the floor of the passenger compartment. They can be used singly or in sets of two or three cars at a time.

But even before the SMART Board of Directors actually selects a DMU manufacturer, board members must decide whether SMART will use “compliant” or “non-compliant” vehicles (sometimes known as “heavy” or “light” railcars). Compliant railcars are allowed by the Federal Railroad Administration to share a rail corridor with freight trains. Non-compliant vehicles must be temporally separated from freight trains; in other words, passenger and freight trains are not allowed to use the corridor at the same time. SMART studied both compliant and non-compliant vehicles in its environmental studies of 2006 and 2008.

In late December, the only existing manufacturer of FRA-compliant DMUs �“ Colorado Railcar �“ closed its plant outside of Denver, Colo. While this narrows the options available to SMART, there are still a range of manufacturers interested in building both compliant and non-compliant vehicles to run in the North Bay, and several of them will be at the Feb. 11 meeting. Among the possible attendees are:

• Bombardier. This Canadian company builds a non-compliant DMU used in Canada and throughout Europe, and is interested in entering the market as a builder of FRA-compliant DMU vehicles.

• Breda. This is an Italian manufacturer of non-compliant vehicles.

Nippon Sharyo. This Japanese company is developing a DMU designed to operate on corridors in conjunction with freight service.

• Rotem. Based in Korea, this company is working on a DMU designed to share a corridor with freight in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.

• Siemens. This German company makes non-compliant DMUs in service throughout Europe and, since early 2008, in San Diego County. Like Bombardier, Siemens has expressed interest in developing and building FRA-compliant DMUs at its Sacramento manufacturing facility.

• Stadler. This Swiss company makes non-compliant DMUs in use in New Jersey and scheduled to begin operation this year in Texas.

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