Originally expected to be fully operational by December 2016, SMART announced today that the grand opening of the North Bay commuter rail system has been pushed back to late Spring of 2017.
SMART made the decision to push the release date back after one of the exact same trains that SMART uses, in Toronto, Ontario, experienced an engine malfunction. SMART will be replacing all engines in their own cars.
In addition, SMART has been having difficulty employing enough people to work for the system. Progress has been made, though, and today the agency only needs a few more people to fill the 80 job positions.
Grade crossings have not been working consistently, either, and the electrical connection between the trains' wheels and the track has not been consistent.
SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian explained, “It is important to identify issues now so that when we do open our doors we become a safe, reliable and dependable service. Safety is more important than trying to meet a deadline.”
To find out more about SMART, visit our previous article by clicking here.
For the first time in 58 years, the North Bay is getting a new train. Somoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART, is bringing back the long-lost rail services that once dotted the North Bay, the last of which closed in 1958.
Because SMART is opening soon and is the first of its kind for the North Bay, we thought we should take a look at where it goes, when it's opening, and how it's going to improve the daily commute for the hundreds of thousands that call the North Bay home.
There has long been talk of restoring Marin's once thriving rail services, but planning of a new railway did not materialize until 2002, when the SMART District was established by state legislature.
On November 4, 2008, residents of Marin and Sonoma Counties voted by 69.5% to allocate a quarter-cent sales tax to help fund the project in both counties.
It was thought, at the time, that this system of funding would be enough to build a railway, but the economic recession quelled hopes that trains could begin revenue service by 2014. As a compromise, it was planned that the railway would open in phases, rather than all at once.
For several years now, crews have worked tirelessly to restore existing track, upgrade crossings, build new stations and their platforms, and preserve the surrounding environment around SMART tracks.
That brings us to the present-day, where SMART is set to open sometime by the end of this year, 2016. Now let's look at where it's going to go, the SMART fleet, its arrival frequency, its environmental impact, and how it will improve the commutes of thousands of North Bay residents.
As mentioned previously, SMART is set to open by the end of this year, but this does not include the entire system. The first part of the system to open, Phase 1 of the SMART corridor will run from Downtown San Rafael to Sonoma County Airport, north of Santa Rosa.
Diagram of the SMART corridor, from Larkspur to Cloverdale.
The track length of phase 1 is about 43 miles long and consists of ten stations, but the system will eventually run 78 miles, all the way from Cloverdale to Larkspur, with 16 stations.
In addition, a few infill stations - future stops located in between two functional stops - are planned along the SMART route, including planned stations at Downtown Novato and Petaluma North. Not to mention the future terminal stations of Larkspur and Cloverdale, with new stops at Healdsburg and Windsor.
Many SMART stations are located right next to historic depots from decades ago, although no station on the network uses a historic depot as part of the system.
SMART station platforms are fully accessible, with basic features you'd expect from a station platform - signage, shelters, trash bins, benches, and lighting.
The complete station platforms at San Rafael, with the historic depot in the background.
The station platform at Sonoma County Airport.
Like many passenger rail lines in the U.S., SMART primarily uses existing freight train tracks, meaning much of the route is single-track. In use are 63 updated grade crossings from San Rafael to Santa Rosa.
The vast majority of the system runs at-grade, on the surface, including a couple tunnels and elevated portions throughout.
The southern portal of the Cow Park Hill Tunnel, in San Rafael (tracks on left, bike path on right).
Traversing the system are 17 diesel-multiple unit cars (DMUs), manufactured in Nagoya, Japan and assembled in Rochelle, Illinois, by Nippon Sharyo.
The new SMART trains, consisting of two-car sets and powered by clean diesel.
The first train set arrived in Cotati, CA on April 7, 2015. At first, seven two-car trains were ordered to operate on the SMART corridor, but in April 2016, SMART negotiated with CalSTA and Nippon Sharyo to add two more car sets, meeting the number of trains required (nine) to run service from Cloverdale to Larkspur.
Interior of Nippon Sharyo's DMU cars.
SMART has promised an every 30-minute schedule during both the morning and evening rush hours, with very limited service midday and on weekends.
Sample schedules have shown the earliest southbound train to begin service around 5 AM, and the first northbound train to begin around 6:30 AM. on weekdays.
On weekdays, there will be 15 trains total, running both directions, and just six trains running both directions on weekends and holidays. On weekends, trains will terminate at an earlier stop in the route, rather than the traditional terminal on weekdays.
Despite the fairly low frequency, SMART is quick, with a top speed of 79 miles per hour and an average of 40 mph; in 1 hour and 7 minutes, you can travel from Santa Rosa to San Rafael, a 34-mile distance.
When it opens, SMART will become the first transit agency in the Bay Area to exclusively use the Clipper card as the only way to pay your fare.
Fares on SMART are very similar to CalTrain - the more zones you pass through, the more you pay - a journey from zone 3 to zone 4, for example, would cost less than a ride from zone 1 to zone 4.
Each zone you pass through adds two more dollars onto your fare, starting with $3.50 for the first zone you travel through. For example, if you stay in zone 2 your whole journey, you are charged $3.50. If you start at zone 2 and travel to zone 3, your fare would be $5.50. After the $23 daily fare cap, riders will no longer be charged for riding on SMART.
As SMART travels through several marshes and wetlands, the effort to limit the environmental impact, both noise and pollution, has been a high priority throughout the construction of SMART.
One of the best things SMART has been building is a dedicated pedestrian/bicycle path to run along the tracks. Currently, around 10 miles has been built, and will eventually cover 70 - 80% of the total track mileage.
Cyclists along the newly built bicycle/pedestrian path in San Rafael, adjacent to the tracks.
When SMART reaches Larkspur sometime in 2018, there will be a dedicated bike/pedestrian bridge connecting the future station and the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.
The pedestrian bridge at Larkspur, currently under construction.
Based on all of this, how is SMART going to improve the lives of thousands of North Bay commuters, who until now had no other option but to drive?
Basic remedies of SMART include cutting carbon emissions from vehicles, running on clean diesel and energy-efficient trains, and taking cars off of Highway 101, an always welcoming commodity.
It is estimated that at least 75% of North Bay commuters are traveling to somewhere else in the North Bay, which is what SMART does. And when SMART connects to Larkspur in a couple years, it can serve the additional commuters traveling outside of the North Bay on the Larkspur Ferry.
Projected ridership of SMART is expected to exceed 1,500 weekday riders when it first opens, with 5,200 projected to use the commuter rail system by 2035. Future extensions mentioned above will undoubtedly lead to a higher overall ridership for SMART.
Residents of Sonoma and Marin Counties won't have to wait much longer to get relief from traffic on 101, thanks to the first passenger railway system in 58 years coming to the North Bay.
There's a train coming to town; SMART enters service at the end of this year. To visit SMART's website, visit http://main.sonomamarintrain.org.