With the announcement last month that the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) board authorized $24 million toward extending its north-south passenger rail system from Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport to Windsor by 2021 or 2022, many are wondering why it may take three years to see this relatively short 3.5-mile segment become a reality.
And officials themselves say they are facing uncertainty, despite the approval. California voters on Nov. 6 are being asked whether to repeal portion of the state gas tax, which could result in loss of funds for the Windsor extension.
Nonetheless, SMART officials say they continue to plan, not only for the airport to Windsor link, but farther into the future, extending the line further north to Healdsburg and Cloverdale and eventually Ukiah. There are also longer term proposals for a rail link east from Novato to Suisun City, Cordelia and Fairfield to connect with the Solano Hub and the Amtrak Capitol Corridor rail line.
Windsor project details
“Several things must take place before any major SMART project can begin,” said Debora Fudge, chairwoman of the SMART board of directors and a member of the Windsor Town Council. “We have set a timetable for the Windsor segment with initial preconstruction tasks to commence this fall, followed by heavy construction in 2020, testing in 2021 and passenger service starting in late 2021 or early 2022 — perhaps, even sooner — if all goes as planned.”
She said the front end of this process involves issuing contracts to WRA, Inc., providing plant, wildlife, wetland ecology and environmental planning consulting services; Stantec, Inc., of Edmonton, Canada, with five offices in Northern California, providing industrial design and engineering services; and RailPros, Inc., of Redcliff, Canada, an engineering and planning firm providing field design and project construction management services, with offices in Oakland and Los Angeles. These contracts, plus one more, total $15.7 million authorized on Sept. 19.
The consulting firms will focus on preparing engineering land surveys, soil analyses, wildlife habitat and tree studies, etc., that must be done in advance of obtaining environmental permits in advance of construction.
“Signal work must be done before design and build contracts can be issued, and we have to reconstruct the tracks, rebuild the rail bed and old trestles," Fudge said. "We plan to use Modern Railway Systems (MRS) again to build train and station communications and grade crossing control systems. This is the same contractor currently engaged in similar work for SMART’s Larkspur extension in Marin County from San Rafael to the ferry terminal.”
The 2.1-mile, $55.4 million Larkspur section should be completed by the end of 2019, in time for Modern Railway Systems to engage in the Windsor project.
The SMART board’s decision authorized $24 million toward the total estimated $55 million cost of the Windsor segment. Of this total, $20 million would come from the state’s SB1 gas tax revenues, with another $30 million from Regional Measure 3 to be collected through Bay Area bridge toll increases approved by voters last June. In addition, a $5 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration is earmarked to implement the accident-avoidance system, positive train control.
If the $55 million projected cost to expand SMART to Windsor holds firm, Fudge said there will be some funds left over to pay for a few extras, such as starting to plan for extending the system to Healdsburg. However, she cautioned, “You never know what a project will actually cost until you start construction.”