A large, lively crowd of over 400 people gathered in downtown Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square Friday morning for the grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting for SMART train, a long-awaited and high-tech mass transit railroad system that Sonoma and Marin counties have been waiting for with bated breath for over five years.
On August 17 it was announced by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District — SMART, that they received word from the Federal Railroad Administration that the new trains could begin “full passenger service” on August 25, according to a press release.
In a statement to the media, SMART Board of Directors Chairwoman, Debora Fudge said of the opening, “We are proud to say that we are ready to roll… This is the result of years of hard work from SMART’s staff, its team of contractors and consultants and Federal Railroad Administration Regional Administrator James Jordan and his team. Successfully opening a new transit system is a major accomplishment—and we will remember this day for generations to come.”
A slew of local and state politicians, SMART board directors, Sonoma County and Marin residents and even an authentic Spanish Mariachi Band, gathered at the 7th Street historic square and station to witness the historic start of train service, which hasn’t operated in both Sonoma and Marin counties for over 59 years.
Prior to the opening day free rides, which started regular service South at 12:49 p.m., guests — some arriving as early as a quarter to nine to ensure a seat on the inaugural ride, were free to wander the square and visit the Clipper Card booth and listen to the opening ceremony remarks.
Various SMART directors and assemblymen were slated to speak throughout the morning, starting with a welcome from Fudge, who
‘SMART’ see page 8
‘SMART’ Continued from page 1
praised not only the start of the train, but also Farhad Mansourian and his commitment and patience for seeing this monumental project through.
California Secretary of Transportation Brian Kelly echoed Fudge’s thoughts, saying to the cheering throng of people just what a huge accomplishment the completion of the train system is for the North Bay.
“Today marks a major milestone and a historic moment for the North Bay as well as the state of California. We are transforming California’s transportation landscape with the start of passenger rail service for the first time in six decades and that is a great accomplishment. I want to congratulate Sonoma and Marin counties for having the vision and the courage to dream big and for having persistence and perseverance,” Kelly said. “And I want to give special recognition… to Farhad Mansourian and I am so impressed with the work that he has done in this particular project. He’s sort of started with a chewing gum wrapper and a paperclip and now he’s built this.”
Other speakers, such as California State Senator Mike McGuire and Congressman Jared Huffman, also touched on SMART’s work to eventually take rail service farther North to Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale.
“Let’s take the time to celebrate these 43 miles and then, we’ll be on to the next phases of this, with the patient folks in Cloverdale and we’re on to Larkspur and the construction for that extension begins in a few weeks and we are going to keep going to Windsor and Healdsburg. But all of these milestones and celebrations are great and they’re fun, but what is really special and significant about today is that myself, my family and the thousands of people I represent in Sonoma and Marin County can actually start using this SMART train, so I will see you board very soon,” Huffman said.
Jeanne Mariani-Belding, media contact and director said SMART is also working on opening a third station in downtown Novato, a second station in Petaluma in addition to downtown, as well as the Larkspur extension.
“We just awarded the contract to begin work on the extension and that is expected to open to passengers in 2019. And in terms of the Northern routes we are working to get funding to complete the system to go to Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale,” Mariani-Belding explained.
For now, until Labor Day, SMART train fares will be 50 percent off regular fares, with regular adult fares of $3.50 for travel in one zone, to $23.00 for a maximum trip starting after September 4.
SMART has received some controversy over the past few months regarding quiet zones and the inconsistent noise level of train horns sounding as they go through each station – with complaints voiced to SMART via online Google reviews, with one Petaluma resident saying the horns still blow throughout Petaluma.
One rider only gave the train service one star, saying the departure times for the train are too staggered. She said, “there are no trains leaving from the Civic Center at 3:00 or 3:30 p.m. Who wants to wait until 4:30 p.m. if they get off at 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. … bad schedule.”
However, many attendees of the weekend’s special event seemed excited about the start of service.
Marin County School Superintendent Mary Jane Burke attended the ceremony as well and said her favorite aspect of SMART train are the affordable rider fares.
Charmaine Louzao, Meeting Sales and Services Manager for Sonoma County Tourism, said she too is excited for the new rail service and believes it will be a valuable aspect for Sonoma County tourism in helping people see the unique cities and towns throughout the county.
“It’s meant to be a commuter, but I really believe that it will impact tourism, considering that the 101 corridor is really getting impacted. I think it is going to be great for us. We’ve been looking forward to it for a very long time,” Louzao said. “Ultimately, it will be very beneficial for Sonoma County, because we’ll get to go to Sol Food,” she said laughing, referring to the popular Puerto Rican restaurant in San Rafael.
One Santa Rosa local, Penny, who requested her name remain anonymous, plans to take the train to San Rafael and eventually Larkspur to the ferry for a day in the city.
“I love it, I’m not a commuter, but everyone I talk to who’s not a commuter wants to ride into San Rafael and then to the ferry,” she said. And when asked if she’ll just ride it for fun, she said with a resounding, “oh yes!”