Heavy rail cars the likely choice by SMART board

Sonoma and Marin rail planners on Tuesday were favoring an American-style, heavy rail car over the lighter European versions to run on the 71-mile Cloverdale-to-Larkspur line.

The final decision is expected when the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit board meets Wednesday, capping eight months of study and debate.

?It is passionate because this is one of the biggest decisions we will make and it will impact the people who ride it,? said Debora Fudge, a Windsor councilwoman and vice chairman of the SMART board. ?They will see these cars, and they will look sleek and modern.?

The SMART staff is recommending purchasing the American-style cars because they will pass Federal Railroad Administration crash criteria, can be run at the same time as freight trains, and meet Federal Transit Administration?s Buy America requirements.

If the European vehicles were chosen, it would require seeking federal waivers that could delay the planned 2014 start-up.

The American-style cars are not as fuel efficient as the lighter European vehicles, but have more seats and provide equal savings of greenhouse gas emissions, and could be electrified in the future, according to the SMART staff.

?The majority understand it?s a tough choice, but in the end the regulatory environment is what it is, and we don?t want to have a system based on regulations that we wished existed. We need to build a system based on regulations the way they are,? said SMART spokesman Chris Coursey.

SMART is asking the 12-member board Wednesday to write specifications to build a fleet of 11 American-style cars, at a projected cost of $88 million.

The board has debated the choice since December and many had clung to supporting the European-style cars, even though only one manufacturer indicated any interest in possibly building them to U.S. emission standards.

?All of us are agonized over this decision,? said Charles McGlashan, a Marin supervisor and chair of the SMART board.

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