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Marin’s Long-Awaited Train Will Hopefully Benefit the North Bay


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SMART train design (Twitter image)

It has been decades in the making: Highway 101 in the San Francisco Bay Area’s North Bay has become more congested from people traveling between Sonoma, Marin, and San Francisco Counties due to its aged infrastructure, and more people work within Marin and Sonoma Counties because of the economic downturn. With a few highways connecting the two counties, as well as connecting roads within Marin, people wanted to find relief in solving the counties’ traffic woes. And in November 2008, Measure Q, the measure that would implement the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), has been passed by both counties. Yet, it took some time before the “under construction” signs were finally placed next to Highway 101 in Novato. And last month, SMART officials unveiled the construction of the rail network that will hopefully ease traffic along the main North Bay corridor.

Despite all the efforts in place to keep the SMART train construction moving, there has been residual opposition to building the new rail network, claiming that it would not benefit commuters living beyond the rail line, forcing them to drive to the nearest station and cause more traffic on the roadways. More importantly, the projected cost of building the new system has been overshadowed by a weak economy, forcing the project managers to delay construction, with many fearing budget overruns. Let’s face it, though: can an economic doldrum and financial hardship really cause public opposition, resulting in transportation projects being abandoned completely? Remember that during the Great Depression of the 1930s, San Francisco managed to build two impressive, heavily-used bridges that have become workhorses of the region today: the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. And now, the SMART train is an equivalent of building the Golden Gate Bridge, if not larger and better.

Read an editorial letter about why stopping SMART is not a good idea here

The railroad right-of-way that the SMART train will use has been abandoned since the 1930s by the Northwestern Pacific Railway because Marin and Sonoma Counties were connected by the Redwood Highway that eventually crossed into San Francisco through the Golden Gate Bridge. Over the decades, the only line connecting the two counties has been dormant, with no rail service provided at all, and it was neglected by city, county, and regional planners because they were more reliant on Highway 101 as the principal corridor connecting the North Bay with San Francisco. It was not until the 1990s when plans to revive rail service in the North Bay were discussed, although ballot measures in the early 2000s failed, citing not enough approval from voters in both counties. It was only in 2008 that both Marin and Sonoma Counties — with Sonoma having a larger approval percentage — approved Measure Q to fund and build a new rail service.


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Railway construction (SMART image)

Now, with construction underway, the SMART train will hopefully decongest traffic along Highway 101 and finally allow commuters to have a new transportation choice to get to work, school, or play. Along with that, the train service allows communities to boost their image as a reliable train service allows them to conduct business quicker with the rest of the region.  There are more benefits, both explicit and implicit, that the SMART train will bring to both Marin and Sonoma Counties, including:

  • A faster and more relaxing commute as travelers can read, sleep, or chat with friends instead of keeping one’s eyes on the road
  • Creating more local jobs that will ultimately benefit communities along the railway, from San Rafael to Santa Rosa
  • A more environmentally-friendly way to commute as rail travel produces less carbon emissions per passenger than driving
  • Encouraging better zoning and development focused on the railway stations, allowing residents to walk, bike, or even skate to the station rather than sitting in traffic
  • Improved transportation circulation as buses and shuttles will be focused on serving nearby communities, rather than focusing on just one transportation hub

With continued public support and a recovering economy, the SMART train will, hopefully, bring a SMARTer solution to the traffic woes in the North Bay and make traveling easier and more pleasurable for everyone.

(Later on, I will write my opinion about what sacrifices several North Bay transit agencies have to make when the SMART train is completed)

0 thoughts on “Marin’s Long-Awaited Train Will Hopefully Benefit the North Bay

  1. China, England, the East Coast of the US… all these places use trains, and have used them for many years! It is about time that California “jumps on board”.

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