Home Depot – SMART looks to ultraviolet light as coronavirus blocker
Some Bay Area transit providers are testing a new weapon against the coronavirus: ultraviolet light.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART, appears to be the first Bay Area transit provider that plans to install ultraviolet lights in the air ventilation systems of its entire fleet of train cars.
“SMART is an industry leader in this respect,” said Matt Stevens, a spokesman for the rail service.
Ultraviolet light, or UV light, has been shown to be effective at breaking down the structural proteins and the RNA molecules that allow viruses such as coronavirus to reproduce. Major transit providers throughout the nation, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City and others in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, have been testing UV lights as a way to disinfect their trains.
Locally, (BA)RT has been testing UV lights and new air filters on some of its trains since August and has found promising results so far.
“We have been able to confirm that the engineering works and that the train’s motion doesn’t jostle the rods. There has been no sign of damage,” (BA)RT spokesman Jim Allison said. “We are still working to gather additional data to support their effectiveness.”
SMART, which runs passenger trains between Larkspur and Santa Rosa, plans to outfit all 18 of its train cars with the custom-designed UV sanitation system by March and plans to reinstall them whenever train cars are replaced. The new filtration system will refresh each train car with clean air every five minutes.
“It’s just another level to protect our passengers from this pandemic or another pandemic or just the common cold,” said Husani Longstreet, SMART’s superintendent of vehicle maintenance.
Like many transit agencies throughout the nation, SMART has seen a dramatic decrease in ridership since the start of the pandemic. SMART’s has fallen about 85%.
The idea for installing the UV lights on trains came after a phone call last year with other transit agencies, health officials and the Federal Railroad Administration on how to improve transit sanitation during the pandemic, Longstreet said. After discussing the idea internally, SMART reached out to third-party vendors about setting up UV lights in the trains’ air ventilation systems located within the roofs of each car.
The cost estimates from these vendors were “astronomical” at about $400,000, Longstreet said. So Longstreet and his team decided to make their own design and worked with a manufacturer to make custom brackets to install the lights on the trains. While taking several months of effort, the decision cut the cost estimate for the entire installation and parts down to about $70,000, Longstreet said.
After testing the new filtration system in November and making adjustments where needed, SMART found its design to be stable as the train was moving, Longstreet said. The district plans to install 36 UV light fixtures, or two for each train car, by the end of March.
No one on the trains will be exposed to UV light, Longstreet said. Wiring and cables in the air ventilation system will also be shielded.
“It’s inside the roof of the system and protected,” Longstreet said.
SMART has already installed improved air filters on its trains that were found in tests to be 67% more effective at removing airborne particles such as viruses than its previous filters.