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