Farhad Mansourian is general manager of Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, more commonly known as SMART. The commuter rail project is currently under construction, expected to begin service with a segment between Santa Rosa and San Rafael in Late 2015 or early 2016.
Q: What is the current progress of construction for the SMART railway and multi-use pathway?
A: SMART’s first major construction contract (known as IOS-1/1A) was awarded in May 2012, and covers new track construction and signal work from Guerneville Rd. in Santa Rosa to Civic Center Drive in San Rafael. Rail construction on this contract started last July and will continue during 2013-14, as the next contracts also get underway this year (see responses to your question six on what’s next).
Construction crews have completed 15 miles of new track so far. Crews are replacing the 60-100 year-old track with new rail, concrete ties, local ballast and track switches, rebuilding from the subgrade up. Each new section of steel rail is more than ¼ mile – five football fields – long.
To date, 22 grade crossings have been upgraded. Improvements replace old wood crossings with modern concrete panels and upgrading signal equipment. We have already received favorable feedback from local residents, as the crossings make the passage over the local roads at the crossing smoother and safer for pedestrians, wheelchairs, bicycles and cars.
Four bridges have been repaired (Laguna de Santa Rosa, Hinebaugh Creek, Copeland Creek and Lichau Creek bridges) and two replaced (Colgan Creek and Willow Brook Creek bridges).
Station platform walls have been completed at the Cotati and Rohnert Park stations, and platforms are currently under construction at the Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa station sites.
SMART’s contractor, Stacy Witbeck/Herzog of Oakland, reports that approximately 57 percent of work hours on the project are local labor — and in addition, more than $5.8 million has been spent with local businesses to date.
We are currently going through permitting process with a variety of federal, state, regional and local agencies for continued construction south of the Petaluma River later this year.
Q: How will the rider experience on the upcoming SMART commuter rail compare to other commuter rail systems in the Bay Area or beyond?
A: The SMART train is a self-propelled Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) that offers a quieter, more environmentally friendly ride in comparison to locomotive-hauled passenger rail systems, and enables comfortable travel for longer distances than light rail systems.
Trains will travel at speeds of up to 79 mph, with an average speed of about 40 mph (including stops). A trip from San Rafael to Santa Rosa is expected to take about 55 minutes, compared to the unpredictable drive times that can stretch to 90 minutes or more during peak commute hours.
Our trains are being manufactured in Rochelle, Ill. by Sumitomo Corp. of America/Nippon Sharyo, who scored the top technical score and bid the lowest price during our evaluation. The train cars offer level boarding, on-board restrooms and service bars, full ADA compliance and a smooth, quiet ride. The sound profile of a SMART train traveling through communities on our new continuously-welded rail is about the same as a typical transit bus. Seating capacity is approximately 158 seats per 2-car train set, with additional space for bicycles, wheelchairs and strollers.
These trains meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent Tier 4 emission standards and lower greenhouse gas emissions to unprecedented levels.
We will be working with our local bus transit partners and potential employer/private shuttle to coordinate service and schedules to offer improved, integrated transit options for the region.
Q: A survey of hundreds of Marin County businesses by Bank of Marin and North Bay Business Journal found that Sonoma County was the top source for out-of-Marin labor. What does SMART expect in terms of volume and passenger demographics in its initial operating segment between San Rafael and Santa Rosa?
A: Our service connects the region’s two largest employment centers, Santa Rosa and San Rafael, and of course also includes stations near employment in the cities and towns in between.
The ridership studies contracted by SMART as well as direct feedback from Marin employers of all sizes, and particularly Marin’s largest employers, is consistent with your survey – employers are looking forward to SMART’s passenger rail service as a popular way for their employees to get to work in a lower stress, more time efficient manner.
We have been contacted by several employers interested in coordinating their own shuttles with train service, and in finding out more about how station access will be designed.
Q: What are the current proposals for connecting the San Rafael station to the ferry terminal in Larkspur? Similarly, what will trigger the construction of that leg of the rail system in the future, and does SMART have an idea of what that portion will cost?
A: In conjunction with the start of Phase 1 rail service, SMART plans Connector express bus service, timed to meet the train, between Downtown San Rafael and the Larkspur Ferry as well as between North Santa Rosa and future station locations in Cloverdale, Healdsburg and Windsor.
We are currently undergoing a Federal Transit Administration (FTA)/National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process on the project segment to deliver rail service between downtown San Rafael to Larkspur. We’ve secured approximately $3 million in federal grants for the NEPA review and preliminary engineering work to advance the design and refine cost estimates.
This work will also make the extension to Larkspur eligible for federal funding, and should be compete in the next 12-18 months.
As a note, we are also under way on the NEPA process for the majority of the SMART Pathway segments in the Phase 1 alignment. We expect that this process will be complete later this year, and it will make most of the SMART Pathway eligible for federal funding as well.
Q: SMART has successfully negotiated for expanded construction and cost savings during this first construction phase — please summarize those accomplishments.
A: Design-build contact negotiations in SMART’s first major construction contract (IOS-1/1-A) resulted in over $14 million in cost savings. Among other things, this enabled SMART to add two stations (Novato North at Atherton Ave., replacement of the Novato Creek Bridge, and extension of track from Santa Rosa North to Guerneville Rd.) to the Phase 1 project.
Contract negotiations have also resulted in expanding the grade crossing and signal improvements beyond initial estimates. We continue to look for opportunities to leverage the project dollars to deliver more project elements sooner.
Q: What are some upcoming benchmarks in construction and contract bidding?
- Three major bridges will be replaced as part of the current construction contract during 2013-14:
- Novato Creek Bridge
- Gallinas Creek Bridge
- Cinnabar (Petaluma River)
- SMART’s first two-car train set will arrive in early 2014 for testing and systems integration. Testing will include:
- Performance (braking and acceleration)
- Electrical system
- Operation controls
- The Systems contract was awarded at the December SMART Board meeting, with design and construction to take place during 2013-14. This contract covers:
- Signals (at crossings as well as the signals within the right-of-way for train operators, and coordination of signaling with roadway signals)
- Positive Train Control
- The next major Construction contract, anticipated to be a $60 million-80 million contract, was presented for bid in Winter 2012 and will be awarded in Spring 2013. This construction contract includes multiple elements:
- Construction of seven segments of the Multi-use Path:
N. San Pedro Rd. to Civic Center Dr. (MP 18.8–19.7)
Main Gate Rd. to Pacheco Cr. (MP 23.6–23.9)
Manuel Ped Xing to Grant Ave. (MP 27.46–27.9)
Rush Creek Place to Atherton Station (MP 28.5–28.8)
Manor Dr. to E. Cotati Ave. (MP 45.8–46.1)
Bellevue Ave. to Hearn Ave. (MP 51.3–52.2)
Prince Greenway to 8th St. (MP 53.6 to 54)
- These segments have completed all necessary environmental clearances to begin construction
- The Federal NEPA clearance process is underway for the remaining Phase 1 segments of the Path; those segments will be bid separately for construction
- The Operations & Maintenance Facility, to be constructed near the Sonoma County Airport during 2013-14
- The replacement of the Haystack Bridge in Petaluma, to be installed during 2013-14
- Track and crossing construction for Phase 1 “Initial Operating Segment 2”, from Marin County Civic Center to Downtown San Rafael 2013-14
- Station Finishes, construction in 2015
Q: SMART implemented a pension plan last year that is expected to be sustainable into the future for the growing transit district. What are the significant points of this plan, and how is staff expected to increase for SMART in the coming years?
Summary of the retirement policy enacted by the SMART Board in May 2012, for all employees hired after June 1, 2012:
• Employees hired between June 1 and December 31, 2012 are eligible for retirement at age 60, and accrue 2 percent for each year of service. Note: The change in state law effective January 1, 2013 increases the retirement age for employees hired after January 1, 2013 to age 62.
• Employees pay 50 percent of the annual retirement contribution. If the contribution requirement increases in certain years, employee contributions increase also.
• SMART (and its employees) will take no pension contribution “holidays” –contributions will continue in up market years, which will lessen the chance of additional contributions being required in down years.
• SMART has also implemented a hybrid pension plan – matching up to 2 percent in voluntary employee contributions to a 457 (the public sector equivalent of a 401(k) plan).
• The retirement benefit is based on an average of the last three years’ compensation – a feature that prevents a practice known as ‘spiking’.
• Pension Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) is set to the lesser of two compounded numbers, SMART’s 2 percent cap or the rate of inflation.
Please feel free to include any additional information about the SMART project
- The majority content of the steel for the new rail comes from recycled sources – not only old rail, but also cars and other sources.
- All track materials are being salvaged for re-use or recycled into new products:
- Old ties are being used for short-line track construction or reused for landscaping retaining walls.
- Old rail is being used for short-line track construction or sent back to the manufacturer to be melted down for new rail.
- OTM (other track materials) is being sold for scrap metal (recycled).
- Made in the U.S.:
- The rail is manufactured in Pueblo, Colo.
- The ties are manufactured in Spokane, Wash.
- Rail cars are manufactured in Rochelle, Ill.
- Ballast is supplied by local suppliers in Sonoma and Marin counties.
- The new rail and ties are shipped by rail. There are net sustainability gains that are achieved by this:
- Shorter shipping distances result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions
- Fuel savings are achieved by the use of rail as well as shorter shipping distances.
- Shipping by rail is 4 times more fuel efficient (one ton of freight can be shipped 495 miles on one gal of diesel fuel).
- Net reduction of wetlands impacts – North of Haystack Bridge – .5 acres was initially estimated to be impacted (at 30 percent design); as a result of careful planning, only .06 acres will actually be impacted.
- The new Haystack Bridge replacement span is a used structure purchased from an agency that was going to salvage it for scrap.
- The purchased bridge is a relatively new bridge that was being replaced to widen a channel on the Galveston River. It has at least 85 remaining years of useful life.
- The existing old steel span will likely be re-used as a trestle on the SMART Pathway.
- The replacement of the creosote treated ties and bridge timbers with concrete ties and steel/concrete bridge components produces a significant net environmental improvement, as concrete and steel are inert materials and do not leach creosote or petroleum binding agents into the environment.
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