Wednesday, July 15, 2009

DMU favored for Sonoma/Marin rail plan

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Planners in California’s Sonoma and Marin counties, north of San Francisco, have recommended diesel multiple-unit (DMU) equipment for a proposed 71-mile rail line serving the northern Bay Area. The Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Board of Directors approved the recommendation Wednesday in a 9-2 vote, directing staff to write specifications. The process will take several months at a cost of $400,000.

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SMART’s directors endorsed plans for a fleet of 11 “American-style” DMU units, projected to cost $88 million, as opposed to diesel light rail transit (DLRT) cars similar to those used in New Jersey and southern California. Doing so would allow the project to meet crash standards mandatedby the Federal Railroad Administration, and avoid temporal separation of freight and passenger services; the proposed rail service, linking Cloverdale and Larkspur, Calif., would share the right-of-way with existing freight rail services. The line would interface with Golden Gate Ferry services at Larkspur, providing intermodal passenger service to and from San Francisco.

Planners and area rail advocates are aware of the difficulties Austin, Tex., has experienced in its ongoing, much-delayed startup of rail service there;  Austin’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority opted for DLRT equipment, which FRA said necessitated temporal separation of freight and passenger rail operations.

“The majority understand it’s a tough choice, but in the end the regulatory environment is what it is, and we don’t want to have a systembased on regulations that we wished existed. We need to build a system based on regulations the way they are,” said SMART spokesman Chris Coursey, explaining SMART’s desire to avoid any entanglements with FRA.

“It is passionate because this is one of the biggest decisions we will make and it will impact the people who ride it,” said Debora Fudge, vice chairman of the SMART board. “They will see these cars, and theywill look sleek and modern.”

The board says it’s aware that only one U.S. manufacturer, Columbus, Ohio-based US Railcar LLC, is capable of producing DMU equipment. US Railcar, owned by the Value Recovery Group, purchased most of the assets of Fort Lupton, Colo.-based Colorado Railcar earlier this year.