SMART awarded $3 million for Larkspur extension safety features
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit will receive $3 million in federal funds to continue to build a safety system designed to prevent potentially deadly accidents as it looks to extend rails to Larkspur.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, announced Thursday that the rail service would receive the money from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration as part of a competitive grant program.
“This enables us to continue to implement the safety system as part of the Larkspur extension,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager. “This is a big deal.”
SMART has already spent $50 million on implementation of what is known as a “Positive Train Control” system on the line from downtown San Rafael to the Santa Rosa Airport. That segment will see passenger service later this year.
The system essentially controls movements on the rails electronically to slow or stop trains before certain types of accidents could occur.
In SMART’s case, a fiber optic network is used to “talk” to the train system to prevent a train from moving while sitting in a turnout while another train passes, maintain safe speeds in curves to prevent derailments and to slow speeds in work zones where workers are present.
The system stops the train if an engineer fails to adhere to the software-programmed instructions. The system is also used by dispatchers to lower speeds when a grade crossing has been damaged.
Such a system could have prevented the deadly accident of Amtrak passenger train 188 in Philadelphia in May 2015, National Transportation Safety Board officials said last month. That train had entered a curve where the speed is restricted to 50 mph. But the train was traveling at 106 mph because the engineer was distracted and failed to slow the train. Eight passengers were killed and 185 others were transported to area hospitals. SMART’s top speed will be 79 mph.
In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration announced $25 million in grants for implementation of the safety system.
SMART applied for $3 million from the federal government to have the safety system installed for the 2.1-mile extension from downtown San Rafael to Larkspur. The extension could open as soon as 2018.
SMART will have to spend between $10 million and $12 million to operate the safety system on the San Rafael-to-Larkspur extension and wanted the $3 million to augment the cost.
Huffman said he urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony 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,” Huffman said in a 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.”
In 2008, Congress required railroads to install the safety systems. Last October, Congress extended the original deadline to implement the system from Dec. 31, 2015 to at least Dec. 31, 2018. In theory, SMART could have delayed deploying the safety system until later to save money now, but the SMART board voted to implement the system.
“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,” Marin Supervisor Judy Arnold, chairwoman of the SMART board, said in a statement.