Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bay Area short line: We're OK with SMART project

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The general counsel for Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co. (NWP) has moved to defuse complaints from NWP's Vice President Jacob Park related to implementing passenger rail service in Sonoma and Marin counties in northern California.

In a letter dated July 4, 2014, Park cited "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." MTC is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Bay Area.

But in a July 15 letter to MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger, NWP General Counsel Douglas H. Bosco downplayed any friction between NWP and SMART, stating, "These issues, though important, are ones that could be expected between the building of a state-of-the-art passenger system that will share the same track with freight services. Procedures for the resolution of all issues between SMART and [North Coast Railroad Authority and NWP] are carefully laid out in the Operating Agreement, entered into between the parties in June 2011."

Bosco notes, "Since agreed-upon procedures are in place, I have informed Mr. Park that raising these issues with the MTC was not appropriate or authorized."

A second letter, dated July 16, was sent by North Coast Railroad Authority Executive Director Mitch Stogner to SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian, also reassuring SMART and its allies that the authority, like the short line, did not expect such a letter objecting to SMART's activities.

Stogner said the letter by Park "was sent without my knowledge or consent, or the knowledge or consent of the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) Board of Directors." He added, " I think the letter to [MTC's] Mr. Heminger was ill-advised and I intend to notify Mr. Heminger personally to let him know that NCRA disapproves of the letter and, instead, will continue to work with SMART in a spirit of cooperation."

NCRA, formed in 1989, notes on its website, “The Mission of the North Coast Railroad Authority is to provide a unified & revitalized rail infrastructure meeting the freight and passenger needs of the region.”'

A source close to Petaluma, Calif.-based SMART, noting earlier Railway Age coverage of the story, said Wednesday, July 23, that the Park letter had “led to a misperception that SMART is damaging local business,” with local media putting the initial story “on the front page.” No such coverage of the two letters affirming support for SMART has yet received local coverage, the source said. 

SMART seeks to construct a 70-mile line serving Sonoma and Marin counties, north of San Francisco, linking Cloverdale and Larkspur, Calif., with ferry connections planned to link Larkspur with San Francisco. The project also includes a bicycle and pedestrian path.

The $203 million initial operating segment between Sonoma County Airport 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.