Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit

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Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit
Owner Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District
Locale North Bay
Counties: Sonoma and Marin
Transit type Commuter rail
Number of lines 1
Number of stations 14
Initial segment: 9
Headquarters San Rafael, California[1]
Operation will start 2016
Train length 2-3 cars
System length 70 mi (110 km)
Initial segment: 38 mi (61 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
(standard gauge)
System map
Cloverdale planned
Healdsburg planned
Russian River
Windsor planned
Sonoma County Airport-Airport Blvd 2016
Santa Rosa-Guerneville Road 2016
Santa Rosa-Railroad Square 2016
Rohnert Park 2016
Cotati 2016
Petaluma-North planned
Petaluma River
Petaluma-Downtown 2016
Petaluma River
Sonoma County
Marin County
Novato-San Marin/Atherton 2016
Novato-Hamilton 2016
San Rafael-Marin Civic Center 2016
San Rafael-Downtown San Rafael Transit Center 2016
Cal Park Hill Tunnel
Larkspur Ferry Larkspur Landing 2016

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) is a passenger rail service currently under construction in Northern California, United States in Sonoma and Marin counties. The SMART district was established by state law in 2003.[2] When complete, it will have 70 miles of track between Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County and Larkspur Landing in Marin County.

It is largely funded by a 0.25% sales tax, Measure Q, passed by voters in the two counties in 2008. It was initially planned to be fully completed by 2014, but the economic downturn, increased costs, and the difficulty of obtaining permits have resulted in a plan to open an initial segment between the Sonoma County Airport and Larkspur Landing by late 2016,[3] with additional segments to be opened as funding becomes available.[4][1]

Project details[edit]

The current plan is to provide 79 MPH passenger service on the historic Northwestern Pacific right-of-way, which roughly parallels US Highway 101[5] and is largely owned by the SMART District.

The capital cost of track rehabilitation, signals, railcars, etc. was estimated in 2008 to be about $500 million. By 2010, cost estimates had reached $695 million.

Estimated ridership[edit]

Originally projected ridership between Larkspur and Cloverdale was about 1.4 million per year, mostly during commute hours, with a mid-day train and four trains per day on weekends. Ridership on the initial segment is expected to be less, although there are plans for express buses to make connections to the planned stations north of the airport station.


Most of the proposed stations are near historic city centers. The Corridor Evaluation done by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2005 showed 17,000 households and over 40,000 jobs within a half-mile of stations. (The 2005 estimate did not include jobs near the airport station added in 2013.) Some 1,400 parking spaces are included in plans for the full system.


SMART passenger trains will share tracks with freight trains of the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA),[6] which in 2011 began to serve businesses along the SMART right-of-way between Lombard (at the Napa river) and Windsor.[7]

In May 2012, rebuilding of tracks began with the arrival of the first of 90,000 concrete railroad ties.[8] In early July, 50 rails, each longer than 1600 feet, were delivered, enough for 7.5 miles of track. The long rails minimize the number of welds required and make for a smoother ride. They were shipped from a steel plant in Pueblo, Colorado via a special 30-car train that was almost a half mile long.[9]

Bike/pedestrian path[edit]

$90 million was allocated in the original budget for a bike/pedestrian path along the line for recreation and to enhance connections between stations and the developing network of bicycle-pedestrian pathways.[10] SMART has obtained a grant for pathway construction in Rohnert Park, and is seeking grants to fund additional segments.

Environmental impacts[edit]

Mitigation of environmental impacts was studied and summarized in a report issued in June 2006.[11] The recommended remedies, which were certified without challenge, included silencing of some train horns in quiet zones[12] and replacement of certain wetland ditches. The study showed that train service would result in an unspecified reduction in vehicle hours of delay and vehicle hours traveled on roads in the corridor.

Route, rolling stock, and construction[edit]


Station Name Status
Cloverdale (Asti Rd. & Citrus Dr.) Deferred
Healdsburg (Harmon St.) Deferred
Windsor (Windsor Rd. & Windsor River Rd.) Deferred
Sonoma County Airport (Airport Blvd.) Initial Operating Segment[14]
Santa Rosa - Guerneville Road Initial Operating Segment
Santa Rosa - Railroad Square (Wilson St. & 5th St.) Initial Operating Status
Rohnert Park (Rohnert Park Expressway)[15] Initial Operating Segment
Cotati (E. Cotati Av. & Santero Way) Initial Operating Segment
Petaluma - North (Corona Rd. & N. McDowell Rd.) Deferred
Petaluma - Downtown (Lakeville St. & E. Washington St.) Initial Operating Segment
Novato - San Marin/Atherton (Redwood Bl. & Atherton Av.) Initial Operating Segment
Novato - Hamilton (Main Gate Rd.) Initial Operating Segment
San Rafael - Marin Civic Center (Civic Center Dr.) Initial Operating Segment
San Rafael - Downtown (Tamalpais Av. & 3rd St., near San Rafael Transit Center) Initial Operating Segment
Larkspur Ferry (Larkspur Landing Cir. & St. Francis Drake Bl.) Initial Operating Segment (based on expected outside funding)

Rolling stock[edit]

SMART has six 2-car Diesel multiple unit (DMU) train sets on order from Sumitomo of America / Nippon Sharyo at a cost of $40 million, $6.67 million for each set. They are to be delivered between October 2013 and May 2014. Under the contract, additional railcars may be ordered at a cost of $2.9 million each.[16]

Railway Gazette International reported in December 2010 on SMART's original contract for nine 2-car sets to serve the 70-mile system at a cost of $56.9 million ($6.33 million each).[17] The railcars will be manufactured in Illinois; other railcar manufacturers submitted higher bids, according to SMART. Similar vehicles have been ordered for the Union Pearson Express in Toronto as an option order based on SMART's original procurement.

The vehicles, designed specifically for SMART, are slope-nosed and self-propelled by diesel engines. They run in pairs, with the ability to put a third, non-powered car in the middle for extra passenger capacity.[18]

Phase 1 of track reconstruction[edit]

In January 2012, SMART completed final negotiations to start building the 36-mile (58 km) the I.O.S. between Coddingtown Santa Rosa and the Civic Center Station in San Rafael at a cost less than originally budgeted.[19] SMART announced that it was adding two stations to the I.O.S.: in north Santa Rosa, near Coddingtown (making that the new north end of the I.O.S.), and in Novato at Atherton Ave.[20] The first phase of construction does not include the parallel pedestrian and bicycle path.[21]

Construction of Larkspur-San Rafael segment[edit]

Southern portal of the Cal Park Hill Tunnel

Reconstruction of the Cal-Park Tunnel on the 2.2-mile Larkspur-San Rafael segment of the route was completed in 2008 at a cost of $25 million (shared by Marin County and SMART) in order to open the pedestrian-bicycle pathway. The cost to San Rafael of the Andersen Drive crossing of the Larkspur-San Rafael segment is significant. The street was extended by San Rafael in the mid-1990s to cross the tracks on a "temporary road". In July 1997, the California Public Utilities Commission told the city that by the time SMART planned to operate on the section, the city had to build and pay for a proper crossing. The estimated cost for that is now $6 million.[22]

In 2010, the agency received a federal earmark of $2.5 million for technical, environmental and engineering design on the segment. Later in 2010, the revamped Cal Park Hill Tunnel, 30 feet wide, 25 feet tall, and 1,100 feet long, was opened. The revamping was done at a cost of $28 million, paid equally by Marin County and SMART. The tunnel is partly used for the rail right of way between Larkspur and San Rafael, and partly for bicycles and pedestrians.[23]

In May 2013, the SMART board approved a resolution designating the San Rafael to Larkspur link as its "preferred alternative". The agency plans to submit a letter to the Federal Transit Administration requesting entry into its "Small Starts" program, which funds new projects and extensions to commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, bus rapid transit, street cars and ferries.[23]


In January 2011, General Manager Lilian Hames, who had led the project for a decade, resigned amid ongoing concern about the project's financial challenges and the necessity to build it in phases.[24] David Heath, the Chief Financial Officer, took over management duties until the appointment later that year of Farhad Mansourian as acting General Manager. In August of 2011, Mansourian was appointed permanent General Manager. At the November 2011 SMART Board meeting, Heath was terminated "without cause," and Mansourian assumed both financial and general management responsibilities for the project.[25]

Mansourian was for many years Director of Public Works for Marin County, and his combined annual compensation from SMART ($346,000) and Marin County pension ($148,000) raised some questions initially.[26] SMART board members said that the threat of a SMART repeal effort made bringing a general manager from an out-of-state rail system to the San Francisco Bay Area even more costly. They concluded that Mansourian's demonstrated abilities during his temporary assignment coupled with his knowledge of California's permitting requirements and successful delivery of complex public works projects in Marin County made him the best candidate.[27]


The project is funded by federal, state, regional, and local allocations (including bridge tolls), dedicated sales tax revenues (Measure Q), and fares. The project financial plan projects that fares will meet 36% of operating costs,[28] which is typical for American commuter rail services. The SMART Board gave final approval to a bond issue to yield $171 million for capital construction in November, 2011.[29]

In November 2006, Measure R, a proposal for funding though an increase in sales taxes, received a combined 65.3% "yes" vote in the two-county District, with 70.1% in favor in Sonoma County and 57.5% in favor in Marin County. Because it lacked the 2/3 majority needed for passage, that measure failed.[citation needed]

Measure Q, similar to Measure R, was approved on November 4, 2008. It received a combined vote of 69.5% in the two counties (73.5% approval in Sonoma County and 62.6% in Marin County).[30] It provides funding for the project through a quarter-cent sales tax in both counties.

Arguments in support of Measure Q[edit]

A coalition of conservation, cycling, business, and labor groups said that it was urgent to restore a functioning railroad and create a bicycle-pedestrian pathway in the corridor to cope with congestion, keep businesses viable, protect the environment, and expand the existing network of pathways. Trains would by-pass traffic congestion, reduce automobile dependency, improve air quality, and reduce demand for imported oil. Trains of self-powered railcars will be two or three units long, crossing intersections in about 45 seconds, and fitting easily within a city block. Crossing gates will be coordinated with traffic lights. Freight trains operating as far north as Windsor were likely to commence in 2010. Foreseeable freight service could be accommodated during daylight hours.[31] The bicycle-pedestrian pathway would connect with a growing network of trails, making stations easily accessible to bicycle commuters. Improved access would make the region more vibrant over the long term for employers, employees, and visitors.

Arguments in opposition to Measure Q[edit]

The operating costs far exceed fare revenue-making perpetual sales tax ballot measures inevitable; noise from trains would severely impact those within hearing distance of the tracks, and the number of cars taken off 101 from 5000 train riders daily is trivial (less than ½%). Most stations are beyond walking distance to homes and job centers, and that many stations do not provide parking (e.g.: Larkspur and Santa Rosa, both key hubs); so trains would be unattractive for most people. There is no link to the SF Ferry at Larkspur, and transfers would be difficult and time consuming as compared to buses. SMART would add freight service which will run mostly outside SMART commute hours meaning nights and weekends where noise is most noticeable. NCRA states they anticipate 3 round trips per day, with garbage hauling being one possibility, but this may be considerably more depending on the success of the freight business. There would be significant traffic disruption at grade crossings, particularly in city centers at peak times.

Repeal efforts[edit]

In September 2011, a petition drive was started to place an initiative on the ballot in 2012 to rescind the 1/4-cent sales tax authorized by Measure Q.[32] Opponents argued that the sales tax was never enough to cover construction, and that costs were underestimated in Measure Q.

Although SMART management proposed applications for grant funding to extend the train and pathway to its entire length proposed in Measure Q, few funding sources had yet been identified. Opponents argued that the project is "half a train to nowhere" and that the SMART Board deceived the public by changing their business plan after passage of Measure Q. They accused the Board of mismanagement, mishandling taxpayer funds, violating the Brown Act and violating other promises made.[33] Supporters contend that the worldwide recession, unforeseen costs, and permitting hurdles required the project to be done in stages. In January 2012, opponents of SMART suspended their efforts to repeal Measure Q, when insufficient signatures had been gathered.

Bond issues[edit]

In late 2011, the SMART Board authorized the sale of bonds, with the proceeds to be put into an escrow account until the fate of the effort to repeal the sales tax was decided.[34]

In May 2012, SMART issued nearly $200 million in bonds to fund construction. The bonds will be paid off with the Measure Q quarter-cent sales tax revenue.[35]


  1. ^ a b "Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Official Website". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  2. ^ "Assembly Bill 2224". Retrieved 2011-12-05. 
  3. ^ Matt Brown (December 22, 2013). "Sonoma-Marin commuter rail plan chugs along toward 2016 start". The Press Democrat. 
  4. ^ Mark Prado (December 15, 2010). "SMART train bound for downtown San Rafael". Marin Independent Journal. 
  5. ^ "What is SMART". Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  6. ^ "North Coast Railroad Authority Homepage". Retrieved 2008-10-01. 
  7. ^ "SMART White Paper #14: Freight Trains and Passenger Trains, July, 2008". Retrieved 2008-09-28. 
  8. ^ Bob Norberg (May 24, 2012). "SMART concrete ties delivered to Santa Rosa". Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. 
  9. ^ Bob Norberg (July 6, 2012). "Rail pieces for SMART tracks unloaded in Santa Rosa". Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. 
  10. ^ "SMART White Paper #8: SMART is both Rail and Trail, February, 2008". Retrieved 2008-09-28. 
  11. ^ Aspen Environmental Group of Parsons Brinckerhoff (June 2006). "Final Environmental Impact Report: Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit". Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  12. ^ Federal Railroad Administration. "Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings". Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  13. ^ "Board of Directors Regular Meeting Agenda". 19 January 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  14. ^ "MTC approves money to extend smart train line to Sonoma Co. airport and build passenger station". December 18, 2013. Retrieved December 26, 2013. 
  15. ^ Eric Gneckow (February 15, 2012). "SMART OKs moving Rohnert Park station near State Farm site; Will be located at central city site vacated by State Farm". North Bay Business Journal. 
  16. ^ "SMART Passenger Vehicles". 2011-09-21. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 
  17. ^ "Sonoma-Marin orders commuter DMU cars". Railway Gazette International. 21 December 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  18. ^ Bob Norberg (February 19, 2013). "SMART passenger seating fails initial safety test". Press-Democrat. 
  19. ^ Bowen, Douglas John (January 6, 2012). "SMART picks contractors for Phase 1 rail start". Railway Age. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  20. ^ Lois Pearlman (January 20, 2012). "As other cities add SMART stations.". Argus-Courier. 
  21. ^ Derek Moore (January 12, 2012). "SMART skips bike path in first phase of construction". The Press Democrat. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  22. ^ Dick Spotswood (March 25, 2012). "San Rafael's mistake is keeping SMART from reaching Larkspur". Independent-Journal. 
  23. ^ a b Mark Prado (May 20, 2013). "SMART seeks funding for San Rafael to Larkspur train segment". Marin Independent Journal. 
  24. ^ "PD Editorial: New SMART". Press Democrat. 26 January 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  25. ^ Prado, Mark (16 November 2011). "SMART board OKs plan to seek $171 million in bonds for rail project". Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  26. ^ Spotswood, Dick (4 September 2011). "SMART chief's eye-popping pay package". Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  27. ^ Arnold, Judy; Brown, Valerie (3 September 2011). "SMART on pay, hiring of new GM". Press Democrat. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  28. ^ "SMART Project Funding Plan, July, 2008". Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  29. ^ Prado, Mark (16 November 2011). "SMART board OKs plan to seek $171 million in bonds for rail project". Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  30. ^ Doyle, Jim (6 November 2008). "North Bay rail plan OKd, BART extension losing". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  31. ^ Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (July 2008). "Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report". Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  32. ^ RepealSMART (August 2011). "RepealSMART files Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition, Launches Repeal Campaign". RepealSMART. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  33. ^ "Problems with SMART". RepealSMART. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  34. ^ Appel, Ted (16 November 2011). "SMART authorizes sale of $191 million in bonds". Press Democrat. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  35. ^ "SMART progresses on several fronts". Press Democrat. May 30, 2012. 

External links[edit]