Monday, August 11, 2014

"SMART" train starting to look dumb

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit

From a Sonoma County Grand Jury report (pages 15-22):

At the time of its acceptance[by voters], the cost of constructing the rail and pedestrian/bicycle system between Cloverdale in the north and Larkspur in the south was estimated to be $541 million. Eight months later, the 2007-2009 economic downturn was taken into account, and the estimate increased to $664 million. Today, construction plans have been scaled back and are being managed in segments. The first phase, between Sonoma County Airport and San Rafael, represents approximately 60 percent of the system’s intended distance at a projected cost of $428 million. SMART estimates another $230 million will be required to complete the entire 73-mile project. SMART’s inability to generate accurate cost and revenue projections puts into question the reliability of its forecasting methodology (pages 15-16).

If/when the project is built, how much will the system cost to operate? "Although the current strategy of ‘only build what we can afford’ has provided a tighter control on budgets, SMART has yet to quantify future train operating costs" (page 17). In other words, they don't know the answer to that important question:

To date, SMART has only identified operating and maintenance reserves in its long-term forecasts. Actual costs will not be understood until labor contracts and operating logistics are better known—probably in 2015. The unpredictability of operations and maintenance costs represents an enormous economic risk. SMART has limited options for dealing with unexpected costs.

Questions have been raised about ridership projections and other issues: "What if SMART got voters to approve the [sales]tax in 2008 by promising the moon but minimizing the actual cost of the system?"

Sound familiar? That's what supporters of the state's high-speed rail project did---make a lot of promises about costs and future ridership that were so implausible they had to be abandoned after state voters passed Proposition 1A in 2008.

Thanks to Richard Hall's Planning for Reality.

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