With reconstruction of the Sonoma-Marin commute rail line well under way, officials say the system is within budget and on track to begin service in early 2016.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district, in an initial progress report, said it has awarded construction contracts totalling $153.5 million.

A second round that could total about $150 million will be awarded by spring, leaving an additional $60 million for staffing and engineering, said Farhad Mansourian, SMART's general manager.

"Once we award those last two contracts, we will know exactly where we are, budget-wise," Mansourian said. "From where we are, everything looks good."

SMART'S directors have adopted a

$360 million plan to rebuild the line, construct stations and buy rail cars. Service from Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael now is likely to start in early 2016.

Revenue generated by a quarter percent sales tax rate in the two counties, SMART's major funding source, are running 5 percent ahead of projections. For 2012, sales taxes are expected to be

$28.3 million.

SMART has a $104,380,000 contract with Stacy & Witbeck Inc. of Alameda and Missouri-based Harzog Contracting Corp. to rehabilitate the line from Santa Rosa to the Marin County Civic Center. The district also is spending $9,142,647 to upgrade the crossings.

SMART said that two-thirds of the workforce hired by Stacy & Witbeck is from the North Bay, although it could not provide a specific number of workers on the project. Instead, officials said that since work began July 9, there have been 95,276 work hours completed by employees of the main contractors and subcontractors.

The third major contract, for $40,035,887, is with Nippon Sharyo USA for delivery of six two-car train sets. The first train is to arrive in October 2013 for testing.

So far, 10 miles of track rehabilitation have been completed and an additional five miles are expected to be done this construction season. The work includes new ballast underneath cement ties and continuously-welded rail.

The next major contract, estimated to be $70 million, is for the communication system, signals and train control system, which would be awarded within the next few months.

SMART is also planning to award a contract of $60 million to $80 million next spring to rebuild the track from the Civic Center to downtown San Rafael, replace the bridge over the Petaluma River with one bought from Galveston, Texas, build part of the pedestrian-bike path and finish stations.

Mansourian said that getting the permits approved for work in the wetlands area in Marin County has been slowed by state cuts to the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board.

To speed up the process, SMART and the County of Marin are planning to share the expense of hiring a staff worker, at a cost of $325,000 over two years, at the water board who would be dedicated to processing SMART's permits.

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

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