High-speed rail project gets underway


The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART, system will be a commuter train, bike and pedestrian path.

In 2008, voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax for a 70-mile system to run from Cloverdale to Larkspur. Opponents tried and failed to get a ballot measure to repeal the sales tax.

Phase One will build only 38 miles between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. But SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian says he has no doubt the entire 70 miles, as originally envisioned, will eventually be built.

"I have no concern. In every large public works project the cost changes, your income changes and you phase your construction and you live within your means. Every large public works project in the United States is managed that way," Mansourian said.

Trains designed in Japan and built in the U.S. will ride on rails first laid down in 1859. Although the rails have been updated since then, most still have to be replaced.

"This is a state-of-the-art train. It's going to go very fast, just over 80 miles an hour, and we have to meet today's latest technology -- seismic, drainage," Mansourian said.

Steve Birdlebough is a SMART supporter who is relieved to see the project going forward.

"It's not going to get derailed. We've been through a very, very rough time when we thought that we might have to go through one more election. That's now behind us," he said.

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