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Comment: SMART foes work to whip up freight train fears

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  • 7/17 Marin IJ
    Published Tuesday, July 17, 2007, by the Marin Independent Journal Comment Why SMART isn t about freight By David Porter THE NOVATO City Council will hold an
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 15, 2007
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      Published Tuesday, July 17, 2007, by the Marin Independent Journal

      Comment

      Why SMART isn't about freight

      By David Porter

      THE NOVATO City Council will hold an important forum Thursday night
      on the resumption of freight train service.

      The hearing will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Novato Unified School
      District Office. The projected increase in freight traffic and the
      need for additional environmental impact analysis will be discussed.
      Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit is being requested to have the
      analysis completed. Beyond this, let's leave SMART out of the
      discussion.

      Opponents of SMART frequently mix SMART into freight discussions
      where it doesn't belong. "Follow the dots," they advise.

      We need to recognize that SMART and freight are two separate issues,
      worthy of two separate discussions. In particular, we must de-link
      SMART from freight in three places.

      * Freight doesn't depend on financing from SMART. The North Coast
      Railroad Authority is responsible for refurbishing the tracks for
      freight operations. SMART will fund the upgrades for higher speed
      passenger service. SMART or no SMART, freight will be rolling down
      through Northern Novato.

      * Freight won't impact SMART's scheduling. Passenger and freight
      operations that share tracks deliver on-time service all over the
      world, with freight trains running all day long without having to
      run at night.

      The struggles Amtrak and Altamont Commuter Express have had with
      freight along the single-track sections between Oakland and San Jose
      are often noted. Neither Amtrak nor ACE control the dispatching.
      Union Pacific does -- it owns the right of way. SMART owns the right
      of way from Cloverdale to Larkspur and SMART will dispatch all
      trains. Trains run on time because scheduling is arranged to take
      advantage of passing tracks, allowing dispatchers to give passenger
      trains priority. Five percent to 10 percent of SMART's tracks will
      have passing tracks designed specifically to accommodate maximum
      length freight trains.

      A better comparison to SMART is the San Diego Coaster, which controls
      the right of way and does the dispatching. Forty passenger trains
      operate daily, sharing a single track with Burlington Northern Santa
      Fe's freight trains. The Coaster has a 93 percent on-time performance
      record.

      In Texas, the Trinity Rail Express operates passenger service between
      Dallas and Fort Worth, dispatching the corridor's 49 passenger trains
      that share the tracks (50 percent are single-track) with 10 to 15
      daily freight trains. On-time performance for TRE averages over 98
      percent. It shouldn't be a problem, then. for SMART to accommodate
      NCRA's six trains per day along with its passenger service. Freight
      or no freight, SMART can operate on time.

      * Freight doesn't determine the type of trains SMART must choose.
      "If it weren't for freight, we could run electrified light rail." We
      could, but light rail isn't the appropriate choice, as it is designed
      for distances of 20 miles or less, slower speeds and more frequent
      stops. Commuter rail, chosen by SMART, is well suited for its long
      corridor (70 miles) and speeds of 70 mph to 80 mph.

      Furthermore, the cost of an electrified light rail system would be
      uneconomical: $25 million to $30 million per mile (pages 4-5 of the
      draft environmental impact report). In the future, should SMART wish
      to electrify, this could still be done, with or without freight. The
      modern, self-powered railcars (diesel multiple units) that SMART
      selected, will use state-of-the-art, clean diesel exhaust technology
      and ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. This system has been described by
      Scientific American (March 2007) as, "nearly as green as hybrids."

      BART, in fact, chose self-propelled railcars for its Contra Costa
      extension. They are sometimes classified as light rail, because
      they are so much smaller, cleaner and quieter than conventional,
      locomotive-hauled rail. If freight were not in the picture, SMART
      would most likely choose the self-propelled rail cars due to their
      many advantages.

      So, at Novato's forum on freight Thursday, let's talk about freight
      and leave SMART for another discussion.


      David Porter is a Marin educator and resident of Novato. He is
      actively involved with Friends of SMART.


      [BATN: See also:

      Editorial: SMART quiet zones to appease train-phobic NIMBYs
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/35771

      Opponents using NCRA freight projections to delay, kill SMART
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/35709

      Freight tail of moribund NCRA seeks to wag SMART dog
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/35526

      February '08 SMART re-vote unlikely due to freight study request
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/35492 ]
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