Rail consultants are recommending Wednesday that a so-called American-style, heavy-rail car be used on the 70-mile Cloverdale-to-Larkspur commute corridor.

Although more costly and less efficient, those cars meet Federal Railroad Administration and Buy America requirements that can shorten the time in which they can be put into service.

The recommendation is being discussed by the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit operations committee today, beginning a selection process expected to take two years.

SMART has budgeted $88 million to purchase the ?diesel multiple units,? which are self-propelled cars that can be configured to include restrooms, kiosks for food and drink, and room for bicycles.

Construction time is expected to take two to three years, but a manufacturer must be found. The last manufacturer of those cars, Colorado Railcars, went out of business while building cars for the Portland transit system. Other manufacturers have indicated an interest in building the rail cars if there is a market.

Commuter rail cars come in two weights, heavy and light, which are measures of crash-worthiness that determines whether they can run alongside regular freight trains and the design of station platforms.

The heavy rail cars can share tracks with freight trains, while the lighter cars would require freight to run in off hours, unless a waiver is granted by federal rail officials.

The heavy rail cars are estimated to cost $8.5 million, compared to $7.5 million for the lighter-weight European-style cars.

SMART is planning to have service running by 2014.

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