SMART board approves downtown Novato station plan
Author: Mark Prado
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
The SMART rail board signed off on downtown Novato rail service Wednesday, assuring a third train stop in the city.
The unanimous decision came after a 3-2 vote last week by the Novato City Council to spend $500,000 from a fund created by the sale of city-owned properties to pay the cost of the project after costs came in higher than expected.
“Some day we will be able to get off the train in downtown Novato,” said Debora Fudge, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit chairwoman and Windsor mayor, after her board’s vote to OK the downtown plan.
Downtown Novato service is expected to begin in late 2019. The downtown station will join Hamilton and San Marin Drive stops in the city. The downtown stop will not get full train service because adding another stop along the line would slow the system, SMART officials have said. Instead, a train trip would alternate between stopping downtown and at the San Marin Drive station.
Even with limited service, backers say more than a quarter of the city’s population lives within a mile of the downtown stop, with 30 percent of Novato jobs in that same area. The stop also will connect to downtown shopping areas and is near the central bus hub at Redwood Boulevard and Grant Avenue.
“It’s been a great effort from the Novato community to get to this point and it’s perfect timing with the building of the Larkspur extension,” said Eric Lucan, Novato city councilman and SMART board member.
SMART’s contractor is now working to extend the rail to Larkspur from downtown San Rafael and there are cost savings in building the projects at the same time.
Novato has already invested $2.4 million for the first phase of work, including a platform near the city’s historic train depot site in Old Town. The second phase will make the stop functional by adding the necessary electrical systems and signals.
Part of that second phase includes “Positive Train Control,” a system that essentially controls movements on the rails electronically to slow or stop trains before certain types of accidents could occur. That aspect increased the cost of the station from $2 million to $5.2 million. In addition to the city’s latest contribution, added costs of the work are expected to be picked up by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Transportation Authority of Marin.
Also Wednesday, the SMART board approved a $700,000 plan to fix a rail car that was hit in Sonoma County in May, an accident caught on video. The rail agency is expected to get all of the money back from insurance, minus a $100,000 deductible, officials said.
The accident occurred when the river of a box truck smashed through rail crossing arms and his vehicle was hit by a train on Todd Road near Santa Rosa. The truck driver was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
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