IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

New SMART Passenger Rail Service Now Rolling Through California Wine Country

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) is the Bay Area’s newest transportation option, spanning 43 miles of rail corridor with 10 stops from the Sonoma County Airport to downtown San Rafael.

New passenger rail service in California's Sonoma and Marin counties began rolling Friday, connecting residents and visitors to locations like downtown Sonoma, the Sonoma County Airport and the Marin County Civic Center.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) is the Bay Area’s newest transportation option, spanning 43 miles of rail corridor with 10 stops from the Sonoma County Airport to downtown San Rafael. Construction on the $500 million Phase I SMART project began in 2012. Trains began full service Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, and service on opening day was free for all riders.

“This will be a game-changer for the North Bay. This area has not had passenger train service in 60 years,” said Jeanne Mariani-Belding, a spokeswoman for SMART. “We now have a safe, reliable transportation option, and a smart alternative to sitting in traffic every day. This will change the way we live, work and play.”

The SMART trains, which are powered by “clean diesel,” are 85 feet long and travel at an average speed of 40 mpg, with a top speed of 79 mph. SMART is the first rail service in North America to use Environmental Protection Agency Tier 4 engines.

The trains feature large, comfortable seats with tray tables, and ample overhead storage, to accommodate more than 300 passengers. Each two-car train has space for 24 bicycles, and includes a service area where passengers can purchase food and beverages, such as coffee, pastries, snacks and beverages, including beer and wine, and will serve locally sourced food and drinks. The trains are also equipped with restrooms and Wi-Fi.

“These trains are built with passengers in mind,” said Mariani-Belding. “The seats are comfortable, and large tinted windows allow you to take in the beautiful views. There are outlets in the seating areas, free Wi-Fi onboard, and we have a concessionaire onboard so our passengers can enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack in the morning or a glass of wine or beer after work.” 

Adult fares range from $3.50 to $11.50, with the daily maximum for all trips set at $23. Fares can be paid via the SMART eTickets app, SMART fare machines or with the Clipper Card, the all-in-one transit card for the Bay Area. An adult monthly pass is $200, or $100 for seniors, youths or riders with disabilities.

The launch Friday marks the beginning of what will be a 70-mile rail line along the historic Northwestern Pacific Railroad alignment and will connect 14 stations between Cloverdale in Sonoma County and Larkspur in Marin County. The SMART Rail and Pathway project is funded by a one‐quarter percent sales tax approved by voters in the SMART District in 2008.

The project aims to ease congestion along U.S. Highway 101, the only north-south direct connection between Marin and Sonoma. More than 75 percent of commuters in the North Bay travel either within or between the two counties to get to work, and are often stuck in congestion that ranks in the top 15 most congested segments in the Bay Area.

Businesses and communities along the route are working hard to promote the new line and get drivers off the highways.

“Employers are encouraging employees to make the most of pre-tax transit incentives, some employers are subsidizing a portion of the cost of our passes for commuters, and others are looking into vanpools, shuttles and other connections,” said Mariani-Belding. “Businesses and organizations are also making the most of SMART service by offering their customers free transportation to their businesses from our stations.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.