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SMART selects American-made rail cars

Directors of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system on Wednesday chose the heavier American-style rail car over its European counterpart, but promised it would be every bit as quiet, comfortable and sleek.

Its not only got to look cool, it has to ride well and be a good neighbor, said Charles McGlashan, a Marin County supervisor and SMART chairman.

The decision, which came on a 9-2 vote, directs staff to begin writing specifications, from the number of bathrooms on a train car to how many bicycles it can hold. The process will take several months and cost $400,000.

It also allows SMART engineers to begin designing rail stations, platforms and maintenance facilities along the 70-mile, Cloverdale-to-Larkspur commute line.

The choice was between the American- and European-style vehicles, both of which are self-propelled with diesel engines, but the American vehicles are built heavier to meet federal crash standards.

The American-style cars can be run alongside freight service, giving SMART flexibility in scheduling midday and excursion trains.

The manufacturers have also indicated the American-style cars can be converted to electric in the future, which the European cars cannot.

Directors noted the major manufacturers that are expected to bid have plants in California or elsewhere in the United States, and the estimated $93.5 million SMART will spend will create local jobs.

Id really like to see that money stay in the United States, and better yet here in California, said Mike Kerns, a Sonoma County supervisor.

By not having to seek federal waivers, SMART directors also believe the American-style cars are the best bet to have the system running by the fall of 2014.

Im interested in getting trains on tracks and bums in seats, said Jake Mackenzie, a Rohnert Park councilman.

The perception, however, is that the European cars are more efficient, ride better, look better and are quieter.

The communities and the people and the businesses that will be near the track deserve the least polluting, the quietest (cars) and the human scale of the train, said Judy Arnold, a Marin supervisor who voted against the American-style cars.

The heavier cars are not a futuristic approach, said Madeline Kellner, a Novato councilwoman, who also opposed the motion. We should go with the lighter, quieter cars that use less fuel. The trains are going through neighborhoods, they are going through downtowns.

Debora Fudge, a Windsor councilwoman and SMART vice chairwoman, said the agency can write the specifications tightly enough to get the cars to look, ride and perform the way it wants.

Well have to raise the bar to make these the most efficient cars possible. We will be watching every criteria to make sure we are getting state-of-the-art, Fudge said.

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