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SMART OK’d to take over North Bay freight rail

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) has been cleared by regulators to take control of freight operations along North Bay tracks from the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) agreed last month to allow Northwestern Pacific discontinue service over approximately 87.65 miles of rail line in Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties. The commuter rail line took over that control on Sunday.

In a statement to the Marin Independent Journal, SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian said, “SMART will analyze two options regarding how SMART will continue to provide freight service — whether to contract with an outside contractor, or to utilize in-house resources to provide freight service to our customers.”

Until that decision is reached, the commuter rail line plans to discuss allowing Northwestern Pacific to run freight on the line. Customers for that service is small, less than six between Napa and Windsor, the paper reported.

According to STB records, the deal to allow Northwestern Pacific to exist the freight business and SMART to take over control of the lines was opposed by TRAC, a statewide rail advocacy organization. It argued SMART did not have the financial resources to take over operation of the rail line. Further, the group argued SMART operated in bad faith and has “ no intention of providing rail service”

SMART countered the group had based its charge the line doesn’t have the financial resources to operate the line on old data. New data “demonstrates that SMART has the financial resources to assume responsibility for freight operations,” it argued to the board.

“SMART notes that it is evaluating ways to grow freight traffic and that it has retained a contractor to conduct an analysis of the existing and potential freight customers throughout the North Bay Area — actions that demonstrate neither an intent to cease rail operations nor hostility towards shippers,” the board minutes stated.

The commuter train line operating now between Sonoma County airport and Larkspur in southern Marin decided to expand into freight operations in May 2020. SMART board discussions have considered that the addition of track into its system would open the option of expanding passenger service east into Solano County.

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