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The SMART Train is Coming!


The SMART Train is Coming!

By Debora Fudge, SMART Board Member since 2005

There is a train coming to town! The first two rail cars, numbers 101 and 102, gracefully made their debut in Sonoma County just two weeks ago. They are quietly sitting on tracks in Sonoma County, awaiting the completion of their new home, SMART’s Operations and Maintenance Facility on Airport Boulevard.

I can't tell you how many people have said to me once they see these first two rail cars, "You mean to say that SMART is really going to happen?"  Yes, I say! 

Here are some fun facts about our beautiful new rail cars. Did you know that these were manufactured just for SMART, and that these exact rail cars do not exist anywhere else?  Did you know that we spent a year designing them, getting into great detail about such things as the type and quality of interior furnishings, the colors, the lighting, the pitch and width of the seats, the hooks for bicycles, the pull down trays and the tables? Did you know one car in each train set has an accessible restroom, and the other a snack bar? Each train will carry 158 seated passengers, 160 standing passengers, and 24 bikes, depending on the mix of wheelchairs, strollers and pull down seats.

Besides the aesthetic design work, we made many decisions on mechanical aspects such as the rail cars being individually powered with biodiesel engines. And we are the first rail agency in the nation to have the newly required Positive Train Control (PTC) system. PTC is an automatic system with multiple levels of backup that will stop a train if it  is going too fast around a bend,  if there is danger of a rail car not stopping at a train station, or if a train operator becomes ill or otherwise disabled. PTC systems are installed on each rail car, and are controlled by the dispatcher in our Operations Facility. If, the dispatcher becomes disabled, the PTC can stop the train on its own. 

The first two cars were built in Japan at the Nippon Sharyo factory. Before we awarded the bid, Charles McGlashan of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, along with 2 rail car engineers, and I traveled to Japan to inspect the factory. SMART had initially planned for red cars, so that they would be visible alongside our green hillsides. At the factory, we saw a display of the earliest rail cars, and when Charles saw a green one, he said, "Deb, we need to change the SMART color from red to green". I didn't know how that would go over with the rest of the board, but at our March 2011 meeting, I turned to Charles and said "OK you can have your green rail cars". Those were the last words I said to him, because Charles died unexpectedly 11 days later. The Board now calls the color "McGlashan Green". I take every opportunity to tell this story so that Charles' memory stays alive, as he contributed a great deal toward commuter rail in the North Bay.

After the prototype cars were built and tested in Japan, they were disassembled and sent via the Panama Canal and by train to the Sumitomo of America/Nippon Sharyo factory just outside Chicago. The cars were reassembled, and then 300 vendors got to work to complete the interior. After all testing was complete, cars 101 and 102 were secretly sent by rail to Napa, where we hid them for a few weeks to await the formal ceremony at the new Cotati Train Station two weeks ago. The two cars rolled into Coati amid great applause and the biggest smiles I'd ever seen.

Service along the initial line (San Rafael to the Sonoma County Airport) will start up in about 18 months, and we continue to look for funding to complete the entire 70 miles. Keep an eye out for the next 12 rail cars as they arrive and test the track and signals prior to startup. We hope you are as proud of the SMART rail cars as your Board of Directors and SMART staff are! See you on the train!