Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bay Area short line upset with passenger project

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Schellville, Calif.-based short line Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co. (NWP) has expressed displeasure with recent actions undertaken by Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) actions that the freight railroad says is disrupting its service capabilities.

In a letter dated July 4, 2014, sent to federal, California state and local officials, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the San Francisco Bay Area's metropolitan planning organization (MPO), NWP Vice President Jacob Park cites "past and proposed actions taken by the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) that are hurting local businesses, obstructing NWP's rightful use of the railroad, and are in direct conflict with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's (MTC) goal of promoting efficient and shared use of rail lines for commuter and freight services."

Among the injurious actions, according to Park: "SMART has (a) removed customer turnouts, (b) removed passing sidings and yard tracks, and (c) built 15-mph gauntlet track, all of which obstruct and hinder NWP's obligation to provide common carrier freight service, thus eliminating businesses option to ship by rail."

Park elaborated on those points, noting, "(a) Customer turnouts are not only vital, but they are the rightful property of each industry and property owner and were in place prior to SMART's construction. SMART is ripping out the turnouts and subsequently requiring each property or the NWP to pay $400,000 to replace the turnouts. This is equivalent to a city repaving a major road while removing all the driveways, then requiring payment from each homeowner to re-install the driveway."

Park notes that SMART owns some of the right-of-way over which NWP operates, "between the connection with the California Northern Railroad near American Canyon (Brazos Junction) to Novato, and the north-south line between Healdsburg and Novato. But he adds, "SMART's historical actions . . . as well as planned construction fail to accommodate the needs of freight rail. SMART has limited capital and a promise to Sonoma and Marin County residents to build a commuter train between Cloverdale and Larkspur, however the commuter service needs not result in the sacrifice of freight rail, a service that these same Sonoma and Marin County taxpayers want and depend upon. Freight rail and passenger rail are not and should not be "mutually exclusive," Park adds.

"NWP requests that the MTC require SMART to (i) replace and finance all turnouts removed by SMART, and (ii) discuss and agree upon any proposed turnout removals with customers, property owners, and NWP prior to turnout removal," the letter says. As well, "Passing sidings are critical to the efficient operation of both passenger and freight rail. They allow for trains to meet and pass each other on a single-track railroad. SMART has rebuilt the Santa Rosa siding with a high-level passenger platform between the main track and siding, which prevents freight trains from accessing the passing siding."

"With the Santa Rosa siding eliminated for freight use, the two nearest sidings are located 20 miles apart in Petaluma and Windsor," the letter continues. NWP requests that the MTC require SMART to finance and build alternatives to both the Santa Rosa and Petaluma Sidings. SMART implemented these changes without considering the needs of freight." The letter lists several other grievances.

Petaluma, Calif.-based SMART ultimately seeks a 70-mile line serving its two namesake counties, linking Cloverdale and Larkspur, Calif., with ferry connections planned to link Larkspur with San Francisco.

A $203 million initial operating segment, covering 38.5 miles between Santa Rosa and San Raphael, is scheduled to open in late 2016, served by 18 diesel multiple-units (DMUs) produced by Sumitomo Corp. and Nippon Sharyo, equipped with Cummins, Inc.'s Tier 4 Final-compliant QSK19-R diesel engines.