Capdiamont\’s Weblog

SMART and NCRA news
Saturday 1 Aug 2009, 08:57
Filed under: Marin, NCRA, Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Railroad, SMART, trails, transit

NA: Heavy trains right for SMART

The SMART board of directors made the correct decision on July 15 by voting 9-to-2 to chose to use “heavy” trains instead of “light” ones “ despite the opposition of two Novato SMART board members, Novato City Councilwoman Madeline Kellner and Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold.

SRPD: Healdsburg launches $2.5 million depot trail plan

Work is expected to begin this fall to extend a key bike and pedestrian path in downtown Healdsburg to the old railroad depot in preparation for the day passenger trains roll again.

It’s the first phase in a $2.5 million project using transportation and redevelopment funds to create a walking and cycling path from the train station to the downtown, and also fix the boarded-up depot.

MIJ: Editorial: Practical train choice by the SMART board

THE Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District board decided not to take any chances when it comes to its trains.

The board, on a 7-2 vote, chose so-called “heavy” rail cars because they are less likely than “light” cars to cause costly delays.

SMART’s leaders are committed to having passenger service on its tracks by 2014. That’s the promise they made to voters who in November approved a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to start rail service through our busy commute corridor.

The cars they selected are not “Iron Horse”-like trains. They are sleek, two-car trains designed to carry 150 passengers each.

MIJ: Dick Spotswood: SMART has a fine New Mexico model to follow

The pioneer opting for untested technology pays for boldness with higher costs, embarrassing delays and endless frustration. It’s a lesson that the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District needs to learn quickly.

I’ve been searching for a transit model that’s successfully addressed hurdles similar to those SMART now faces.

That endeavor brought me to beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico’s capital. Admittedly the high desert scenery and vibrant art scene were part of my motivation, but I took the opportunity to check out the Land of Enchantment’s latest transportation initiative, the Rail Runner Express.

It’s a new system that provides a very sensible template for SMART.

MIJ: Marin Voice: ‘Light’ trains made more sense


WE ARE WRITING to discuss our recent vote on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District board for the type of vehicles for which SMART will request proposals.

In discussion of the two types of rail vehicles, one is technically referred to as Federal Rail Authority (FRA) Compliant, meaning heavy DMUs. The lighter diesel or DMU trains are referred to as “Alternate Compliant,” meaning they need an FRA waiver to operate with freight.

We will use heavy and light for simplicity.

A recent IJ article summarized our vote in favor of the light DMUs as based on design. However, as this does not capture the primary concerns stated before the vote, we’d like to offer a recap:

As stated in the staff report to the board, the heavy DMUs emit five tons of additional greenhouse gases per day per vehicle. The consultant report equated the two car types because the heavier DMUs have higher passenger capacity. The calculation was changed to reflect emissions on a per seat basis. Our concern over this point was that this assumed all seats are always full on the larger car – and although no analysis was performed on this specific assumption, all agreed that is unlikely.

If you remove this assumption, we found the difference in pollution emitted each day, over a 15-20 year assumed life for the cars, to be compelling.

Staff also recommended the heavy DMUs because they require no federal waiver; freight can run on the same track without temporal separation.

We pointed out that there is now a precedent for the FRA approving waivers for light DMU’s in Riverline New Jersey, and Austin and Denton Texas, all of which have freight mixed with passenger service.

Project directors in Austin and Denton indicated that the waivers caused no project delay. They also stated that in reviewing the lighter DMU for safety, far from being considered less safe, the Crash Energy Management technology used for these cars was perceived by the FRA as “an enhancement” over current FRA-compliant standards.

Next, we were concerned about procurement risk. To date, no company in the U.S. or world is building or has more than a conceptual design of a heavy DMU. SMART’s staff report stated: “No FRA-compliant DMUs are currently in production … DMUs designed to FRA standards are not attractive transportation solutions in the world market. Typically DMUs built to FRA requirements are heavier and costlier … than alternate-compliant (light) designs.”

Although manufacturers were quick to answer “yes” to SMART’s queries about possibilities of the heavy DMUs, the fact is these responses were unburdened by any actual experience building FRA-compliant cars.

The SMART staff did a comparison on regulatory compliances, mechanical, operational, and environmental parameters, procurement factors, diesel-fuel consumption and emissions. Where there is a SMART preference, the advantage is shown for light DMUs. In particular, we were persuaded that noise, fuel consumption and emissions from the heavy DMU’s made the lighter DMUs a superior choice.

And we did feel that the lighter European style DMUs were aesthetically more compatible with Marin and Sonoma neighborhoods, schools and downtowns that they will pass through. With required “Positive Train Control” and technology that will evolve as high-speed rail is developed, the FRA has issued statements that its standards will evolve as well.

Our minority vote was based on believing that light DMUs are the future in the U.S.. We believe the commuters and the people and businesses that will be close to the tracks deserve the least polluting, quietest most human-scale train possible.

That said, the decision to go out for an RFP for heavy DMUs was made by a majority of the SMART board, and we will continue to work with the board and staff to ensure that the vehicle specified is the best it can be, and to close the gap in GHG emissions by focusing on ways to maximize ridership to make sure as many seats as possible are full on every trip.

Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold and Novato City Councilwoman Madeline Kellner are members of the SMART board of directors.

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