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Comment: SMART or not -- freight trains coming to Novato

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  • 8/8 Marin IJ
    Published Wednesday, August 8, 2007, by the Marin Independent Journal Comment Novato and freight train traffic By Walter Strakosch The Novato City Council held
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 15, 2007
      Published Wednesday, August 8, 2007, by the Marin Independent Journal


      Novato and freight train traffic

      By Walter Strakosch

      The Novato City Council held a hearing last month to discuss
      the "proposed resumption of freight train service through Novato."

      The principals involved were the city, Sonoma Marin Area Rail
      Transit, the North Coast Railroad Authority and the Northwestern
      Pacific Railroad Company.

      SMART is involved because it owns the tracks through Marin and Sonoma
      counties to Healdsburg and is required by law (AB 2224) to work with
      the NCRA to provide a safe, efficient and compatible passenger and
      freight service over the tracks owned by SMART.

      Northwestern Pacific is the operator designated by NCRA to operate
      freight trains. In Marin, the freights will operate no farther south
      than Highway 37.

      About 25 members of the public also added comments. NCRA is improving
      the track in Marin and Sonoma to Windsor and eventually to Willits.
      What seems to have Novato up in arms is the speculative increase in
      freight trains.

      In SMART's final environmental impact report (Section 3.2, page 36),
      NCRA informed SMART there would be a 12-car train operating four to
      six days a week. On July 12, NCRA issued a new study that increases
      the amount of freight service. A 15-car train is likely (not 12) and
      that service could increase to two trains a day -- a 25-car train and
      a possible 60-car train. A speculative third 60-car train is also
      possible. These totals are based on the railroad being upgraded and
      opened to Willits.

      The debate went well beyond what Novato and the principals can do to
      mitigate the operation of freight trains through Novato. The debate
      included critcizing NCRA about diesel exhausts, number of trains, use
      of taxpayer money, integrity of the NCRA, not doing a comprehensive
      EIR - you name it. Important issues, but not relevant to the matter
      at hand.

      As Mike Di Giorgio, a former City Council member, said: "Only in

      The freights are coming and the debate should have been, "How can
      Novato work with NCRA and SMART to make it more comfortable to live
      together." Some presenters took this sensible approach.

      Freight service will resume whether SMART becomes a reality or not.
      What is important is that if the SMART sales tax measure passes in
      2008, SMART will have control over train length and the entire
      dispatch of freight and passenger trains. If it does not, then I
      expect SMART will drop out of the picture and NCRA can then operate
      the freight trains at any time (day or night) it so pleases. Do
      citizens of Novato really want that?

      Novato and its citizens may hoot and holler to try to control freight
      trains, but the NCRA has a perpetual easement over a rail line that
      has been there about 100 years. Although not now operating, it did as
      recently as 2001 and then was shut down for safety reasons, but never
      abandoned. Freight trains operate through cities and towns at all
      hours of the day and night without restrictions. If Novato chose to
      try to control train times, why wouldn't others? It just isn't

      Several speakers did suggest that the best thing Novato can do is
      work with the NCRA and SMART.

      The first thing Novato can do is apply for "quiet zone" status
      (eliminating the train horn where necessary), and that is not as
      difficult or expensive as some believe. SMART has money in its
      expenditure plan for this.

      Second, if SMART passes (and this is a reason to vote for SMART),
      the track will be upgraded with new ribbon rail, eliminating much
      vibration and clickety-clack where trains pass over old jointed rail.

      Finally, if SMART passes and controls the dispatching, I suspect
      there will be far more sensitivity to Novato and other cities than
      from the freight operator.

      In summary: Freight trains are coming, and it is not be the end of
      the world as some see it.

      The number of freights will depend on the amount of available
      business. It seems that Novato should accept this and confer with
      the NCRA and SMART to map out the most workable solutions.

      Walter Strakosch of Mill Valley had a 40-year career in
      transportation that included 11 years as a senior planning analyst
      for the Federal Transit Administration.

      [BATN: See also:

      Comment: SMART foes work to whip up freight train fears

      Editorial: SMART quiet zones to appease train-phobic NIMBYs

      Opponents using NCRA freight projections to delay, kill SMART

      Freight tail of moribund NCRA seeks to wag SMART dog

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