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SMART Rail Board To Vote On Purchasing Trains

SANTA ROSA (BCN) -- The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District's governing board on Wednesday will consider awarding a contract to buy trains to carry commuters in two counties where concern has been growing about the financing of a proposed 70-mile rail line.

The $56.8 million contract is for the purchase of nine two-car trains from Sumitomo Corporation of America.

The rail line was initially slated to run between Cloverdale and Larkspur at a construction cost of $695 million. However, the project now faces a $350 million shortfall.

The SMART district blames the shortfall on lower-than-anticipated revenue from a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters to finance the project, as well as rising construction costs.

Because of the shortfall, the plans were scaled back by the SMART board in November. The initial line will now begin at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa and end at the Marin Civic Center. That 40-mile segment would cost $395 million and would include a $39 million bicycle and pedestrian pathway.

Both the Marin County Board of Supervisors and the Novato City Council have proposed putting the project on hold until the district lines up its financing for the entire project that voters approved in 2008.

The Repeal SMART group, which is aiming to collect 40,000 signatures to repeal the sales tax, claims the truncated route between Santa Rosa and the Marin Civic Center "cuts the train in half" and is a violation of the trust of the voters who approved the sales tax.

"It is time to stop this train wreck," Repeal SMART states on its website.

Other critics say the initial leg of the route should extend at least to the San Rafael Transit Center where bus service is available.

Sonoma County residents critical of SMART's plans want the train to run to Windsor if not farther north to Cloverdale.

SMART's board of directors said it expects construction to begin on the $69 million Marin Civic Center-to-Larkspur segment and the $214 million Railroad Square-to-Cloverdale section between 2016 and 2018 when other revenue sources become available.

Also on Wednesday, the SMART governing board will review a sales tax revenue forecast and an analysis by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission of SMART's financial assumptions and project costs.

The meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chambers at 575 Administration Drive in Santa Rosa.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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