Toot Toot Toot: SMART train whistles up some controversy

In expanding SMART (Sonoma Marin Rapid Transit) Train Service to Larkspur, the line has whistled up some controversy over sleepless nights as it repeatedly tests train horns along the route well into the wee hours of the morning.

Before SMART can take passengers to the Larkspur Ferry, safety laws require that SMART prove their safety systems are up to the task.

The SMART Board got the latest update on the controversial overnight train testing, with loud whistling, on the still unopened track between downtown San Rafael and the Larkspur Ferry.

Before the no whistle Quiet Zone can be certified, the train must activated its whistle while testing of two ultra critical systems are verified both separately and in perfect harmony with each other.

The Grade Crossing Warning System must give folks at crossings sufficient warning.

"It's the gates, the lights, the bells that are located at the roadways that SMART's track crosses. And our job is to make sure that all those devices are providing the proper warning time, that is, they're activating the proper time before the train reaches the crossing," said Aaron Parkes, SMART Train's Control Systems Manager.

Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians must get at least 25 seconds advanced warning.

Equally important, the Train Control System.

"That system is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, movement through a switch in the wrong position, inclusions into a roadway or worker protection zone. Basically it's a safety system to ensure that an engineer can't exceed the speed limit and that the train will stop short of any obstruction that's detected on the tracks," said Parkes.

When all of that that is done, a downtown San Rafael to Larkspur no whistle quiet zone will be authorized by the Federal Railroad Administration.

SMART, having heard loud and clear from track side residents, says it will do it sooner than later.

So, how long will overnight tests continue?

"We anticipate another 7 nights of overnight testing, and we're going to start this Friday, September 6, and test again Saturday night September 7," said Parkes.

Pending what SMART learns, there could be as many as five additional overnight tests if and as needed.

The train will begin serving Larkspur before the end of the year, probably much sooner.