New funding keeps SMART on track
Commuters have been anxiously awaiting the commuter train they voted for, and a recent financial shot in the arm is greasing the tracks.
Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) just announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded $3 million in funding to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) District system. Huffman’s staff says he urged FRA Secretary Foxx to award SMART’s grant application.
“The safety of my constituents is always my top priority, and these much-needed funds will assure that the SMART’s state-of-the-art rail service will meet the highest level of safety technology,” said Rep. Huffman in a prepared statement. “The SMART system is a critical service to commuters, to students going to school, and to tourists that are visiting and spending money in our local economy. I am grateful to the Department of Transportation for investing in SMART’s success.”
This project will allow the SMART system to make improvements to satisfy federal Positive Train Control requirements. It will install Enhanced Automatic Train Control (E-ATC) communications and train control systems, as well as integrate new grade crossing warning systems on the 2.1-mile passenger rail extension between downtown San Rafael and Larkspur — a pivotal section of SMART’s route.
“This grant will continue our investment in the highest level of safety, as we begin the design and implementation of our next phase to Larkspur,” said Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold, also chair of the SMART Board of Directors. “We are grateful to Congressman Huffman and to FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg for all of their hard work and support.”
Arnold fielded some questions regarding SMART’s progress and future:
Marinscope: What is the current status of the SMART tracks and stations?
Arnold: SMART’s system-wide testing is going extremely well. We are working closely with our partners at the Federal Railroad Administration on a formal start date, and we are currently on track to begin our passenger service by the end of the year.
Marinscope: What’s next in the timeline/what needs to be completed?
Arnold: As we move closer to the start of service, we’re working on pulling everything together, including the bicycle paths and parking; our new website that will focus on operations; selecting a vendor for our onboard food and beverage service; and developing a smart phone app to make it easy for our customers to purchase tickets and passes.
Marinscope: When will the service be up and running for actual passengers?
Arnold: Our board of directors has set the goal starting passenger service by the end of the year, and our general manager, Farhad Mansourian, and our SMART staff are working night and day to fulfill that goal. The final green light for the start of service will come from the Federal Railroad Administration.
Marinscope: What’s the status of connecting San Rafael to Larkspur and, especially, the ferry terminal?
Arnold: We have secured the funding for the Larkspur Extension, and construction will begin in 2017 and is slated to be completed in 2018. The train will deliver passengers at the Larkspur end of the CAL PARK tunnel, where they can walk or bike across the new bridge over Sir Francis Drake to get to the ferry.
Marinscope: What is your favorite perk that the SMART train offers its riders?
Arnold: My favorite perk is the train itself, which will provide our passengers with free WiFi, a snack bar where they can have some refreshments on their commute, and a state-of-the-art train control system that uses advanced software to make safety a top priority. This software will closely monitor train speed and will have safeguards in place to regulate speed or to stop the train in the event of an emergency, or if the engineer is unable to do so.
While SMART rolls forward, feedback is being sought from potential riders.
SMART is encouraging the public to weigh in on plans for bicycle parking near its rail stations. SMART’s Bicycle Parking Investment Plan, already reviewed by its board of directors, will be brought back for further review in October.
The plan includes recommendations for bicycle parking at each of its 10 stations along its initial train route, and at the future Larkspur Station. SMART is scheduled to begin its initial service with a 43-mile route from the Sonoma County Airport area to downtown San Rafael by the end of the year. SMART’s extension to Larkspur is slated to open for service in 2018, and future extensions are planned for Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale.
“We encourage the public and our bicycling community to provide their feedback, so that we can create the best possible options for bicycle parking at all of our SMART stations,” said SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian.
SMART’s initial service includes 10 stations: the Sonoma County Airport Station; the Santa Rosa North Station near Guerneville Road; the Santa Rosa Downtown Station; the Rohnert Park Station off of Rohnert Park Expressway; the Cotati Station on East Cotati Ave.; the Petaluma Downtown station; the Novato San Marin and Novato Hamilton stations; the Marin Civic Center Station; and the San Rafael Station in downtown San Rafael.
For a copy of the plan, visit SMART’s website at SonomaMarinTrain.org or call (707) 794- 3330. Send your feedback to LMeckel@SonomaMarinTrain.org. SMART will be taking comments on the plan through Sept. 19.