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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

NCRA, SMART release timeline for trains

Written by 
February 14, 2001

Construction work is finished on the railroad tracks that will carry freight trains through Novato, Calif. Now the tracks need to be inspected, and then freight trains are expected to start rolling by March 2010, the Novato Advance reports. Meanwhile, planning and design work is under way for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) commuter train, and construction work should start in 2011.

That's according to officials from the North Coast Railroad Authority and from SMART. Both agencies recently issued updates about their projects' status.

Allan Hemphill, chairman of the North Coast Railroad Authority, announced on Oct. 22 that $40 million in repairs to 62 miles of the Northwestern Pacific railway between Napa County and Windsor have been completed. He said Federal Railroad Administration inspection of the repairs to the track, crossing signals and bridges between Windsor in Sonoma County and the national rail interchange in Lombard, located north of American Canyon in Napa County, will take up to 90 days.

At one point, NCRA officials had said freight trains could start running in October, but several months ago, "we updated that," said the agency's Executive Director Mitch Stogner. The target for freight trains to be operational on the 62-mile stretch of line is no later than March.

The NWP Co. hasn't yet signed contracts to move freight, Stogner said. But NCRA officials said one immediate beneficiary of freight train service would be Marin and Sonoma dairymen who are suffering from escalating costs of feed grains that must be trucked in from the Central Valley. Other commodities expected to be moved on the line in the first year of service include merchandise such as wood products, building materials and cases of wine.

The NWP Co. estimates operations of three roundtrip trains per week in 2010, increasing to three roundtrips per day in 2011 and beyond.

Sonoma and Marin voters narrowly approved the SMART ballot measure a year ago. Now, the agency's goal is to get trains running between Cloverdale and Larkspur by the fall of 2014.

SMART has launched several initiatives:

• Real estate acquisition: While SMART already owns the 70-mile rail corridor, several parcels still need to be acquired for station sites, a maintenance facility and other small real estate needs. Thirteen consulting companies have been awarded contracts to help SMART with work ranging from appraisal to environmental review. More than half of these firms are from Marin and Sonoma counties.

• Vehicle and systems specifications and design: SMART has contracted with LTK Engineering Services, one of the world's leading rail vehicle consultants, to help write specifications for the rail cars and systems - the signals, dispatch center, communications, etc. The specifications process will continue into the second half of next year, at which time SMART will put the agency's rail vehicles out to bid to manufacturers.

• Track and pathway design. Seventy miles of railroad and an equal length of multi-use pathway must be designed and engineered. Two firms, HDR Engineering Inc. and PGH Wong Engineering Inc., will lead this effort. They have teamed with a wide variety of smaller firms, including several certified disadvantaged business enterprises.

• Stations design: Thirteen teams of architects, engineers, planners, artists and other specialists have submitted proposals to design SMART's 14 stations from Larkspur to Cloverdale. A design team should be under contract by the end of this year.

• Major bridge design: Three major bridges exist along the SMART alignment: the span across the wetlands and waterway at Gallinas Creek in San Rafael, the movable bridge across the Petaluma River and the historic steel bridge across the Russian River at Healdsburg. Six teams have submitted proposals to conduct design and engineering services for the rehabilitation or replacement of those spans. A single team should be under contract by the end of this year.

• Maintenance and operations facility design: SMART will have a central facility where railcars will be maintained and operation and dispatch of the rail line will be headquartered. The location of this building is still under consideration.

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