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The recession, rising costs and a difficult bond market have left the Sonoma-Marin rail transit system $154.7 million short of what?s needed to to get trains fully running by the 2014 start date.

However, any suggestion that service might not be extended initially all the way north to Cloverdale was stricken from a strategic plan Wednesday at the insistence of an irate Cloverdale councilwoman.

?We voted for 70 miles of train line,? said Cloverdale Councilwoman Carol Russell, a member of the Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit board. ?Larkspur will get the train and Cloverdale will get the train,? she said, referring to the two terminals.

An outspoken and angry Russell said Cloverdale voters were strong supporters of the SMART sales tax ballot measure, approving it by a 3-to-1 margin. The city has had a train station for 15 years and believes the train would be an economic boost.

?We voted for this, we worked for this,? Russell said. And Cloverdale should not be left out ?until the day comes that you tell us that you don?t have a pot to piss in.?

The board agreed to eliminate language referring to phased-in service from the strategic plan presented Wednesday, which authors said was intended to show the dire financial situation facing the transit district.

Consultant Mark Lee told the board that in the past year, the recession has caused a 4.2 percent drop in sales tax revenues, the largest percentage drop since 1988.

Over the 20-year life of the quarter-cent sales tax, Lee said, SMART is estimated now to collect $46 million less, or $845 million, while an unfavorable bond market has made selling municipal bonds more costly and difficult.

?We had started to see financial problems, but who could have guessed the severity,? Lee said. ?And in 2008 the bond market collapsed.?

At the same time, construction costs have increased 9 percent, to $590 million, because of changes in rail car availability, stricter emission standards and a new system to control trains, consultants said.

The bottom line is a $154.7million long-term shortfall, a gap the SMART board directed its staff to bridge by seeking state and federal funds.

A citizens advisory committee, however, included in the strategic plan the options of phasing in construction as funds allow or delaying the November 2014 start date.

At its most severe, the phasing-in option meant that Coddingtown station in Santa Rosa could initially be the northernmost terminal.

?We thought because of the funding gap we should have backup plans,? said Mike Allen of Santa Rosa, the citizens advisory committee chairman. ?If I was Cloverdale I?d feel the same way, but the citizens committee wanted full disclosure.?

SMART General Manager Lillian Hames said that the current revenue is sufficient to fund two years of work, which involves planning, engineering and ordering the rail cars.

In two years, however, SMART would need to begin construction and the board would have to address the funding gap. ?We will be amending the plan to take out any consideration of phasing in,? Hames said.

The board also balked at a consultant?s recommendation that it opt for American-style, heavy rail cars, hoping instead that a manufacturer will step forward to make a European-style car that meets federal crash and emission standards.

Bill Frandsen of LTK Engineering told the board that two manufacturers have said they are interested in designing heavy rail cars to the Federal Railroad Administration?s crash standards and the Environmental Protection Agency?s emission standards that take effect in 2011. The heavy-rail cars also would satisfy the Federal Transit Administration?s ?Buy-American? standards.

Frandsen said he had been in contact with rail car manufacturers and none indicated they would build a lightweight car to the specifications for the United States, where they don?t believe there is an adequate market.

The cars are projected to cost $8 million per coupled pair, or $88 million for the fleet. Because they carry more passengers than the lighter European cars, only 11 are needed, compared to 14 lightweight cars that would cost $98 million.

The heavy cars use 37 percent more fuel, but the lightweight cars would require that SMART apply for a series of federal waivers that could be time-consuming, Frandsen said.

Board members, however, were disappointed by the recommendation, saying the European cars have a better ride, are quieter, more stylish and are a better fit for the Sonoma-Marin service.

?Sonoma and Marin are more European in their tastes,? Arnold said.

The board asked staff to contact the car manufacturers again to try to stir up interest and consider putting out specifications for both types of cars simultaneously. It would increase the cost to draw up specification from $500,000 to $750,000 and could delay opening the system by eight months.

<i>You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com</i>