North Bay residents who rely on the 101 corridor are soon going to have another, less trafficky option for getting to and from the Golden Gate or at least to and from San Rafael starting in 2016. A years-long project to revive the long under-used Northwestern Pacific Railroad corridor as a commuter line is coming to fruition next year with the introduction of SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit) trains, which, to start, will run between downtown San Rafael and the Sonoma County Airport. As the Chronicle reports, the plan is to build extensions to the Larkspur ferry terminal, and north to Windsor and Healdsburg, once funding is secured.
As of June, SMART got an $11 million state grant in order to begin operations by December 2016, as the Press-Democrat reported.
This is especially good news for commuters who live up in Sonoma and travel down to Marin for work, because they will be able to escape the ugly morning commute on 101. And, officials promise, for those who need to get to San Francisco, there will be shuttle buses from San Rafael to Larkspur until that extension gets built.
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad hasn't been in use, save for a few freight trains, since 1958 when passenger service died off in the face of the automobile boom. Now the $460 million project, which was funded by a quarter-cent sales tax in the two counties, is becoming a reality with self-propelled, diesel-fueled trains that are ultra-modern they are prototype trains just like some that were just put into use in Toronto in July. This project has been in the works for 30 years, and was ultimately approved by voters in 2008 with a 43-mile initial phase, ultimately extending to 70 miles, possibly up to Cloverdale.
Station stops will include Marin Civic Center, Novato, Petaluma, Sebastopol, and two stops in Santa Rosa.
SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian has previously said that his marketing plan is as follows, "Take a train while you drink latte or you do your work on [the wifi] and relax when you get to work because you’re not already going crazy because you were stuck on 101 for two hours."
Also, potentially, this could make northern Sonoma wine tasting a car-free experience, assuming you don't mind taking a ferry to a shuttle to a train to another shuttle up to Healdsburg.
The project is expected to prevent at least 30 million pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere each year by removing 5,300 car trips daily from North Bay roads. Also, the system will include a parallel 70-mile bicycle-pedestrian trail that will further decrease greenhouse gas emissions.