High SMART frequency on the cheap

In response to my analysis of SMART’s potential for double-tracking, commenters Richard Mlynarik and the Drunk Engineer pointed out that other rail lines run high frequency with sidings only and not a full-fledged double track.  SMART, they reasoned, would save a bucketload of cash by building something similar, and they’re right.

At 15 minute headways, SMART will have at most 6 trains going in each direction once it reaches full build-out.  If they stick to precise scheduling, they will pass at 6 predetermined points. Under the current plan, SMART will run 30 minute headways under a similar scheme, with only 3 passing points of 4 miles each. At that 4-mile standard, we would need another 12 miles of track (another 3 sidings) to permit 15 minute frequency.  While my original assumption was for 56.7 miles of construction (70.5 miles minus the 1.8 mile Puerto Suello segment minus 12 miles of passing track), with this dramatically reduced need for new tracks we can shrink the cost by a similar margin. Rather than cost $284 million, 12 miles of track will only cost $60 million. That’s much more reasonable.

California regulations treat sidings differently than regular two-track systems, and pegs the minimum width of the right-of-way at 50 feet, rather than 44.  While that means the sidings will interfere with the mixed-use path in the narrower segments of the right-of-way, moving the path is far cheaper than extraneous track.

Though this doesn’t give SMART operational flexibility to raise and lower frequencies or speeds at will, the currently planned system doesn’t either. Any changes in frequency or speed will require some capital investment to ensure passing tracks are where they need to be. Compared to the cost of SMART’s trains, though, it’s not much of an expense.

About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

4 Responses to High SMART frequency on the cheap

  1. Pingback: Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog San Francisco

  2. Richard Hall says:

    Dave – what are the operating costs of SMART once it’s operational? – let’s understand if those are viable before suggesting doubling the frequency or double track lines. I’ve heard talk of 4,000 riders in the year 2035 (not sure if those were revised since shortening from Santa Rosa to San Rafael).

    I’d like to see the operational business plan. If a company spends hundreds of millions of dollars to set something up (thought it was already over a billion dollars, but do correct me) it’s only reasonable it does so with a plan identifying cash flows once the investment becomes operational.

    Love to have a dialog – but it’s fairly pointless discussing the numbers you suggest without this. (I live for business plans – that’s my day job). We don’t want a situation where once this thing starts running, and then “unforeseen circumstances” occur and they have to go back and raise even more taxes or bonds that cripple county and city services. Maybe you’re OK with that though.

    Show me the figures – then let’s talk. Otherwise this is an academic conversation about spending “only” an additional $60m on top of a non-disclosed profit and loss model.

    Show me the operational figures…

    • The point is to be academic. I’m only proposing that SMART not build in such a way that precludes this kind of service increase. As I wrote on the previous article, “SMART has yet to prove its worth to the North Bay, and the North Bay has yet to prove it can support a rail line.”

      This article addresses some criticism about my double-tracking article the previous week.. That previous article, paired with this one, addresses criticism that the MUP precludes development of a double-track system. I wanted to see if that was true and what the costs would be were SMART to undertake such a plan. I’m not proposing it do this now, though.

  3. Pingback: The 101 corridor: Transportation myopia in practice « The Greater Marin

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