TRANSIT: Sonoma-Marin, Calif. area rail project poised for 2016 ridership

Initial segment will take riders 43 miles from Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport to a transit station in downtown San Rafael

Transit News June 02, 2015
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In a project that will, once opened, run 43 miles of track from the industrial parks near Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport to a transit station in downtown San Rafael, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit project looks to be passenger-ready late next year.


This stretch of track accounts for almost 80% of the total projected ridership for the line, according to SMART senior engineer Bill Gamlen at the Construction Conference at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park. The ultimate end-goal is a 70-mile line from the Cloverdale rail depot to a planned station across from the Larkspur ferry terminal. This initial segment makes a regional connection via a station to be built on Airport Boulevard, which then leads to the airline terminal.


Gamlen went on to state that SMART is purchasing seven two-car “trainsets,” a euphemism for two connected passenger cars each with diesel-electric locomotion, which are being assembled in Rochelle, Ill. for later delivery. The first of these trainsets was tested at the National Test Center in Pueblo, Colo., earlier this year and rolled into the Cotati depot for a rail system welcoming ceremony in April.


The passenger cars were specified to carry up to a couple dozen bicycles in hanging racks, which is an important piece of the overall project as a bicycle-and-pedestrian path that at times parallels the railway also connects existing paths along the route to the train stations.

“Between the bicycles and the train, we believe it will be a mobility alternative for the North Bay,” Gamlen said.


Forty-two of the original 43 miles of track, which were separate rail segments on wood ties, have been replaced with continuously welded steel rail on concrete ties with fresh ballast gravel, preventing the racketing rides of old and satisfying the need to replace rotted ties. Grade crossings were rebuilt with removable concrete panels instead of timber to allow for better maintenance.


SMART has made strides to include local businesses in the project as much as possible, as infrastructure developments have a direct effects on such businesses. The rail was rolled in Pueblo, the ties poured in Spokane, Wash., and the ballast sourced largely from North Bay quarries.


“This really is a railroad that is being built with local dollars,” Gamlen said.


A transit operations facility is being completed next to the airport station, which when ready will be able to house a two-car train inside the maintenance facility and have rail spurs for other trains out of service.

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