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The commuter rail cars that will run between Sonoma and Marin counties have passed federal crash tests, are in the final design stages and are on track to be delivered in October 2013.

"This is the state of the art for commuter rail, which shares the track with freight railroads," said Kevin Koyasu, president and chief executive officer of Nippon Sharyo USA, based in Arlington Heights, Ill.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District developed specifications for the new rail car to meet Federal Railroad Administration regulations for crash-worthiness and new emission standards that take effect in 2014.

The cars, called Diesel Multiple Units, are slope-nosed, self-propelled and powered by diesel engines. They run in pairs, with the ability to have a third non-powered car added in between to increase capacity.

"Overall, the basic systems is not new to us; it is fine tuning our past experience," Koyasu said.

SMART is paying $49 million for 12 cars.

Metrolinx, in Toronto, Canada, has ordered 18 of the cars at a cost of $75 million to run between downtown Toronto and the city's airport. It paid SMART $758,825 in development costs last March.

Koyasu said the new cars are expected to become a standard in the United States.

"Unlike the commuter trains hauled by big locomotives, these are very flexible in operation, especially for startup transportation," Koyasu said.

Nippon Sharyo is building a $50 million assembly plant to open this summer in Rochelle, Ill., where it will employ 300 people. The state of Illinois has spent $12 million on infrastructure, such as rail spurs and roads, to serve the plant.

The factory will have the capacity to build 120 rail cars annually.

The company also has a $560million contract to build 160 electrically powered passenger rail cars for Metra, the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad, which is based in Chicago.

A stainless-steel prototype of the SMART car was built at the company's plant in Japan, where it passed compression tests for crashworthiness, Koyasu said.

The car shells will be built in Japan and then shipped to the Illinois plant for assembly, largely with American-made components, including a Cummings diesel engine, brakes, seats and windows.

Koyasu said the cars will surpass federal Buy America regulations that require the cars be assembled in the United States and have at least 60 percent American-made components.

Meanwhile, SMART is moving to buy land and build a maintenance facility so it has someplace to test and store the cars when they arrive next year.

"We have to be ready and have a facility built so it is up and running when we receive the trains," said SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian.

The rail agency is in negotiations with a property owner for a 10-acre site, one of three sites in Sonoma County is under consideration.

He declined to identify the location, saying that negotiations with the owner are still under way. The agency hopes to purchase the property and start construction by this fall.

SMART has $20 million in its budget for the maintenance facility, which will have a shop for vehicle repair and maintenance, outdoor storage and a train control facility.

The transit district plans to have service running on 38.5 miles of line between Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa and downtown San Rafael in fall 2014 or early 2015.

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