SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — Citizens and dignitaries from Marin and Sonoma counties celebrated the grand opening of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District’s full passenger train service with a ribbon cutting ceremony at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa Friday morning.
Residents have been taking free preview runs on the green and gray commuter trains between Santa Rosa and San Rafael at selected times for several weeks. Friday’s 12:49 p.m. free run from the Sonoma County Airport station marks the official return of full passenger rail service to the North Bay in 59 years.
The 43-mile rail line includes 10 stations between San Rafael and Santa Rosa. An additional station in downtown Novato also is planned, and the SMART Board of Directors hopes to expand service to Larkspur near the Golden Gate Ferry terminal in 2019, then to Windsor and eventually to Healdsburg and Cloverdale.
Voters in the two counties approved a quarter-cent sales tax in 2008 for the full 72-mile project that would include a bike and walking path in some areas. A vote two years earlier failed.
Funding shortfalls during the economic recession that set in soon after the 2008 vote led the SMART board to operate the rail service between San Rafael and Santa Rosa only.
The start of service was slated for December 2016 but it was delayed because of problems with the diesel engines’ crankshafts. The SMART board ordered new engines then waited for the Federal Railroad Administration to approve SMART’s positive train control system that is designed to shut down the train to prevent derailments and other emergencies.
That approval came last week.
Reflecting Friday morning on the difficulties, delays and criticism that dogged the SMART rail project, SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian said, “We are the little engine that did.”
Mansourian was the head of the Marin County Department of Public Works until he was recruited to run SMART in September 2011. Friday morning he thanked the residents of both counties for their patience with SMART’s stop and go progress. He also praised SMART’s 175 employees, union workers and contractors that he called, “The best in the nation.”
Dignitaries who spoke Friday morning included state Senator Mike McGuire, Congressman Jared Huffman, state assemblymen Marc Levine and Jim Wood, California Secretary of Transportation Brian Kelly, Federal Railroad Administration Regional Administrator James Jordan, Metropolitan Transportation Commission Chairman Jake Mackenzie and MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger and Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey.
McGuire, a former Sonoma County supervisor, said two simple but important words — “All Aboard” — highlighted the occasion.
Before dignitaries and residents boarded two trains for a 40-minute inaugural train ride, a Japanese good luck ceremony was held with an armless, legless and eyeless Daruma doll to celebrate persistence to reach a goal.
After Friday’s free train rides, SMART fares will be 50 percent off the regular price through Labor Day.
The one-way adult fare through all five zones of the rail line is $11.50 and $5.75 for seniors, youth and passengers with disabilities.
SMART also offers adults a $200, 31-day pass for unlimited rides and a $100 pass for seniors, youth and disabled riders for 31 days.
SMART offers 34 weekday trips and 10 weekend runs on Saturday and Sunday. The one-way trip through 10 stations takes 67 minutes with stops at all 10 stations.
The earliest southbound train leaves the Sonoma County Airport Station at 4:19 a.m., and the last northbound train from downtown San Rafael leaves at 8:35 p.m.
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