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SMART passenger seating fails initial safety test


The passenger seats seats for Sonoma and Marin counties' commute rail system failed a crash-worthiness test last week, officials said Tuesday.

The manufacturer and Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District said the seats will be redesigned, but that should not delay delivery of the first two-car set by the end of this year.

"Whatever needs to be done will be corrected," said Gene Germaine, director of business development for Kustom Seating Unlimited of Bellwood, Ill. "As it stands, there is no delay in the normal process in developing the product and testing it and having it signed off and meeting the requirements."

Lisa Cobb, SMART's vehicle and systems manager, said she was surprised by the test failure, but isn't concerned.

"There is always usually one thing or another that doesn't go according to plan when you are rolling out a new car design," Cobb said. "That is one reason we require these tests. Often-times something doesn't go right; you fix it and you move on."

Nippon Sharyo USA will assemble the trains, called Diesel Multiple Units, at its plant in New Rochelle, Ill.

The vehicles, designed specifically for SMART, are slope-nosed and self-propelled by diesel engines. They run in pairs, with the ability to put a third, non-powered car in the middle for extra passenger capacity.

The trains will have engines that will meet new federal standards for emissions, which take affect in 2014, and for crash-worthiness required because the SMART trains will share the rail line with freight trains.

Kustom Seating, the largest manufacturer of seats for buses and trains in the United States, is supplying the seats for Nippon Sharyo, which has a $55.6 million contract to provide 13 two-car pairs for SMART.

The first aluminum car shells, which passed the crush test, are being shipped to Nippon Sharyo's new $50 million plant in Illinois for assembly.

Work is under way to rebuild the SMART line now from Airport Boulevard in Santa Rosa, where SMART's maintenance and operations facility is to be built, to downtown San Rafael.

Service from Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael is scheduled to begin in late 2014 or early 2015.

"There is no reason the failure should force a delay of the delivery, the seats are the last things that go on the car," Cobb said.

The seats are built of stainless steel and have to meet the most stringent federal regulations because SMART and freight trains will share the tracks.

The seats are undergoing testing at MGA Research in Burlington, Wisc.

Cobb said the seat frames failed under the G forces applied during crash tests. "The seat is accelerated to 8 Gs and and required to not fail. It was loaded up and the seat failed," Cobb said.

Cobb said she has not seen the redesign, but it will be reviewed before more tests are performed.

Germaine, of Kustom Seating, said failed tests are part of the learning curve. "The process as it relates to having final approval of the crash-worthiness of the product is a lengthy process," Germaine said. "The designs are made; there are computer analysis, prototypes made, tests made. Tests pass, tests fail."