Trail may be scrapped in SMART train project

A civil grand jury report suggests a path with the SMART train plans should be scrapped to save $91 million.
June 29, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Two years ago, North Bay voters passed a sales tax increase to fund a new commuter rail system. It's called the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART train, but the project is facing some unexpected financial problems and now an important decision must be made on Wednesday.

A specially-equipped suburban took ABC7 on a ride of the future, and the past.

In a few years, the suburban tracks what is supposed to be the route of the new SMART train.

It is supposed to be a 70-mile system from Larkspur to Cloverdale, with 14 stations along the way and never far from Highway 101.

The tracks were first laid down in the 1880s for the former Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The last time passengers enjoyed the view was 1958.

"The train is coming. A lot of people think that because we have these financial challenges, that nothing is going to happen. That's not true. We're working on this, we're on schedule," says Chris Coursey, a spokesman from SMART.

Architects are working on station designs and SMART has asked for bids on the trains. All of its funding comes from sale tax revenues, projected to bring in $890 million over 20 years, but those are down by an estimated $155 million last year.

Coursey says they'll have a clear picture of the financial situation by November.

"We're looking at other revenues, we're looking at grant funding from a variety of programs, we're looking to have the MTC help us out with some transportation money that's available for the region," says Coursey.

One of the biggest first jobs will be replacing and refurbishing the tracks. The ties on the North Bay stretch dates back to 1941.

"Right now these tracks are rated at about class 2, which is a maximum speed of 25 mph and we need to bring them up to class 4, which gets us up to the 79 mph," says Bill Gamlen, a SMART engineering manager.

SMART is also building a pedestrian and bike path on the 70-mile route. A civil grand jury report released last week suggested the path should be shelved for $91 million in savings.

"I think that our board will have to answer that question, but our board understands that they represent people who voted 70 percent for a project that includes a train and a pathway," says Coursey.

The target date for completion is 2014.


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