The SMART Train – Then and Now

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A 1998 ballot measure in the Sonoma-Marin area proposed a two-part sales tax (¼ of a percent or 0.25%) intended to fund a passenger rail line for the two counties; the area was disconnected from the nearby city of San Francisco in terms of dedicated public transportation infrastructure. After that year’s election, it was clear that voters wanted and needed more high-speed public transportation, as the measure easily passed with 70% of voters in support. 

The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) Commission was then formed to address the need. Some might take issue with the tax or be disinterested in the concept altogether or people who have never even heard of the SMART Train or ridden on passenger trains. These projects are one of the very best ways to reduce road congestion, as it reduces the number of drivers especially during rush hour, by transferring people’s commutes to the rails. Additionally, diesel-electric hybrid trains (the variety that runs in the Sonoma-Marin area) are almost unimaginably more efficient than vehicle travel. For everyone in the surrounding area, it means fewer harmful pollutants in the air they breathe. According to the Department of Transportation, trains are at least ten times more efficient than cars in terms of fuel consumption. This means that one person making a trip in an average car would burn the same amount of fuel as if they took (at least) nine of their friends with them on the same trip by rail. 

The development of the SMART Train was severely affected by the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting recession. Construction was delayed until the year 2017 when the line from (almost) the Santa Rosa Airport to the Marin Civic Center was completed. An extension to the line that brought the final southernmost station within walking distance of the Larkspur Ferry, meaning it was finally connected to the city by another form of public transportation, which is a necessity for car non-owners to make a commute. 

Today, the SMART Train provides service from Northern Sonoma County through Larkspur, with many special events like the Holiday Express, where free service is run for a limited time. Ticket prices are fairly competitive compared with BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) but could be overwhelming especially for daily commuters. Special programs for students provide free or greatly discounted tickets, and generally, SMART uses its resources liberally to serve our community.