Posts Tagged ‘SMART’

BART Orders Stadler DMU

For its new eBART extension, BART has ordered Stadler DMU railcars:

SAN Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has awarded a contract worth $US 58m to Stadler to supply eight two-car DMUs for use on the 16km East Contra Costa Bart extension project, which is currently under construction. Dubbed eBart, the new line will utilise standard-gauge rather than 1676mm-gauge infrastructure used by conventional Bart lines and is due to enter service in 2015. Bart officials say the $US 462m project is around 60% cheaper than conventional electric Bart services.

The Stadler cars will not be FRA-compliant, nor will they be purchased under Buy-America rules. Stadler will produce the vehicles from its plant in Switzerland.

It is worth comparing the BART DMU order with the one done by SMART. SMART, as you may recall, selected heavy FRA-compliant DMU’s over the more popular non-compliant varieties. SMART even paid for a “study” to show this would give the public a less expensive railcar. Well, now we can conclude that SMART study was bogus: the BART DMU’s are comparable in price to the SMART DMU (when accounting for inflation and LTK consultant fees).

Stadler was the only vendor that bid on the BART project. Other foreign vendors were no doubt discouraged from participating in a US project, given the convoluted regulations. As a result, BART still paid a lot more than it should have. But at least BART will get a model that has been fully debugged and burns less fuel.


Stadler DMU used for Austin's Capital Metro

Stadler DMU used for Austin’s Capital Metro


SMART's klunky DMU

SMART’s klunky DMU

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Here is another example of two government agencies working at cross-purposes.

SMART, the commuter-rail agency, is developing a new service along the highway-101 corridor. Meanwhile, the Marin Transportation Authority (TAM) is expanding highway capacity in the same location. One transportation agency trying to shift mode-share to trains, and the other transportation agency encouraging car travel.

The latest highway project from TAM is the Greenbrae interchange project — where Highway 101, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and the Larkspur Ferry Terminal meet (the Ferry Terminal, by the way, is to be the terminus for the SMART rail line). The interchange will get giant new flyovers, and screw up cycling for years to come:

The plan also could impact the bike and pedestrian traffic in the area, making it more dangerous for those groups, said Andy Peri, advocacy director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. He noted the pedestrian and bike overcrossing over Highway 101 will be taken down as part of the project.

That will force those users to use car-busy Wornum Drive.

“People will not be comfortable having to use Wornum,” said Peri, adding that a new overcrossing should be built as part of the project. “There is a lot of traffic activity there. We want encourage bicyclists and pedestrians, not discourage them.”

The Greenbrae interchange project comes at a time when SMART still faces major financial shortfalls. As a result, SMART has done everything from stealing bike/ped funds, to blasting the MTC for not providing sufficient financial support.

And aside from the competing rail project, it should be noted that urban interchange projects rarely make sense. They are insanely disruptive and expensive ($143 million in this case), and provide hardly any traffic relief:


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Train Robbery

Once again, SMART rail planners try to raid bike/ped funds:

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials are seeking $6.6 million in federal funds to buy more train cars, money that otherwise would be used for local pedestrian and bicycle paths.

“SMART is committed to go to Cloverdale and to Larkspur and as you go farther, you need more vehicles,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager.

SMART’s request is drawing fire from bicycle advocates because the rail agency would be taking the lion’s share of $9.9 million that Sonoma County is getting for such projects as bike lanes, sidewalk improvements, traffic lights, Safe Routes to Schools programs and even construction of SMART’s own pedestrian and bicycle path.

“It would mean that most jurisdictions would have to put off implementing most of their bike-pedestrian plans for five years, at least,” said Sandra Lupien, outreach director for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

The coalition has been a staunch supporter of SMART but is strongly opposing this bid. “We don’t understand how it makes sense for one train set to take two-thirds of the funding for the entire network,” Lupien said.

This problem all stems from a very ill-advised decision by SMART to custom-design FRA-compliant railcars. Compared to the global price, the SMART DMU’s will be nearly twice as expensive. And the decision to run under FRA rules adds huge cost; for example: the $12 million spent on the quiet zones. It would be one thing if SMART needed the $6.6 million to cover legitimate shortfalls. But in this case, it is to pay for self-inflicted problems.

And here again, we see the downsides to Buy-America rules on railcars. $6.6 million taxdollars could be used to hire local Sonoma contractors to build bike-paths for local Sonoma bike riders. SMART instead would send that money to subsidize jobs out in Illinois, which does nothing for the local California economy.


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The Price of Silence

When “SMART” stupidly decided to operate under Federal FRA-compliant regulations, it created a whole bunch of unnecessary costs:

The board of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District this week unanimously agreed to spend at least $12 million on safety measures associated with establishment of “quiet zones.”

Federal regulations require that train horns blow a quarter-mile before a crossing and continue to sound until the train passes into the intersection. They must sound at a minimum of 96 decibels, which is equal to the volume of a backyard power mower.

Actually, 96 decibels is equivalent to a jackhammer from 50′ away. If they had decided to operate the line as a transit operation, then FRA rules would not apply and the $12 million quiet zones wouldn’t be necessary.

$12 million is not a trivial amount of money, especially given SMART’s budget problems. For example, $12 million is enough to buy two or three DMU trainsets.

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San Rafael has put together one of those Gawd-awful design-by-committees to do a station area plan for its downtown. This is for when the new ‘SMART’ rail line reaches the downtown.

Here some of their recommendations:

  1. Additional traffic lanes on Hetherton St.
  2. 3rd St. crosswalk elimination
  3. 1:1 parking requirement
  4. Potential public garage
  5. Potential future transit parking

It is amazing how so many of these transit station area-plans morph into autocentric parking plans.

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Can Anyone Spare $45 Million?

SMART DMU planners still trying to develop a convincing budget plan:

On Wednesday the Metropolitan Transportation Commission decided to delay a vote on the money after Farhad Mansourian, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency’s acting chief, concluded last week the rail project would cost another $45 million.

You know what would help save $45 million? Not paying a nearly 100% cost mark-up for proprietary DMUs. And not wasting huge amounts of diesel fuel on the FRA weight-penalty.

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Shit Flows Down, Money Flows Up

Shit flows down, money flows up was how Tony Soprano described the Mafia. It is also an apt description for our transportation hierarchy.

Consider recent developments in the ‘SMART’ commuter rail saga.

‘SMART’ is now $350 million under-funded (shock news). As a result, the MTC has proposed to “down-size” a $70 million bike path that had also been promised to voters.

Besides the obvious inequity, shifting funds from bikes to trains is fiscally nonsensical. Bike paths require no operating subsidy, and are inexpensive to build. According to the FTA cost-per-new-rider metric, the bike path will be orders-of-magnitude more effective for reducing car trips. Trains might be more sexy than bike paths, but this scheme would cannibalize the most cost-effective portion of the project.

Highway Robbery
The situation gets more distressing as one looks at the overall funding picture. Highway 101, the main competitor for SMART trains, will be lavished with hundreds of millions for expansion projects. Since 2001, some $400 million has been programmed for Highway 101 widening, with more to come.

Sonoma County highway planners have asked the state to let them keep the savings from three Highway 101 widening projects that came in under budget and use it for three new projects. The savings, $50 million in state funds and $23 million in local sales tax money, would be earmarked to widen another stretch of freeway and rebuild two overpasses, said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “This is the first time we have had full funding for these segments in sight,” Smith said. “We are pretty excited about the opportunity to keep the bid savings in the county and in the corridor.”

The bike path, the SMART rail line, and highway 101 all serve the same corridor! Two branches of government, SMART and the County Highway Dept, are operating at cross purposes. The highway department expands highway capacity while SMART is trying to shift car trips to trains. There is not enough money to pay for both, so guess who gets first dibs?

Thus, the transportation food chain is clear: The highway department gets all the resources it needs. The rail service has to truncate its project and raid bike funds. The bike path? It is at the bottom, fighting for survival. Shit flows down, money flows up.

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