Local residents will have to wait a little longer for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) to begin operations, but on June 7 they announced preparations for a “soft launch” with free preview rides for the public. An official start day for full passenger service is still pending final approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.
“We do not have a specific date,” says Jeanne Mariani-Belding, Media Spokeswoman for SMART. “SMART has conducted thousands of tests as required, and we are in the homestretch now. We are waiting for the Federal Railroad Administration to finish their review and give us the green light.”
Other glitches have been resolved, including replacing the train motors, which was covered under warranty and was completed ahead of schedule. Overall, 43 miles of track has been rebuilt, from Northern Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael, 24 bridges have been replaced or refurbished, and 63 at-grade crossings have been rebuilt. Construction of the portion of the pathway from East Cotati to Sonoma Mountain Village is slated to begin this summer.
For the “soft launch”, SMART is asking local residents to provide suggestions on which days of the week they would like to take preview rides, and which stations they think they will use to ride the train. Once the Federal Railroad Administration completes their audit, in process at the time of this writing, SMART will announce the preview ride schedule.
One reason testing is taking so long is due to SMART’s Positive Train Control System (PTC). This system will soon be required, most likely by 2020, of all passenger trains and SMART is among the first in the country to open with a PTC system in place. With safety being a number one priority, SMART constructed the PTC as a highly sophisticated feature that prevents trains from exceeding speed limits. This is important because most high collision train accidents are speed related. Each portion of the track has different speed limits, depending on the distance from crossings and stations. If operators exceed these limits due to any number of reasons ranging from being distracted to having a medical issue, they receive an audible warning. If speed is not immediately reduced, the train will safely come to a stop automatically. SMART has completed more than 2,000 PTC tests, ensuring trains stop at a safe distance from stations and crossings. After the current extensive audit, federal regulators will still need to sign off on SMART’s PTC system.
“Safety is our top priority, and we encourage the community to share our safety information and encourage safe behavior near all tracks and trains,” says Mariani-Belding. “Always be alert and aware near all railroad tracks and crossings. Drivers should never stop on the tracks, and should pass through only when they are certain they have enough room to make it safely to the other side. People should never walk on the tracks. Walking on the tracks is both dangerous, and illegal.”
For more safety information, SMART has a dedicated safety website, www.BeTrackSMART.org that offers safety information for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Regarding the preview rides, the public can weigh in on Facebook @SonomaMarinTrain; Twitter @SMARTtrain; or Instagram @SonomaMarinTrain by using #SMARTpreview. People can also email their preferences to SMARTpreview@SonomaMarinTrain.org, or call the SMART hotline at (707) 794- 3077.