NOVATO, Calif. - Changes begin Friday night for the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit in the North Bay.
Safety testing for a new downtown Novato station will be spread over the next two weekends, causing some station closures and more horn noise than neighbors are accustomed to.
"If you see the crossing arms going down and you hear the bells, pay very close attention," cautioned Novato Mayor Eric Lucan, who is also on the SMART Board of Directors.
Lucan notes, mandatory federal testing requires empty trains, so passengers will be bused around the test zone, starting in Petaluma.
"It is an inconvenience but the testing is necessary and the last step to get us to Larkspur and get us to downtown Novato," said Lucan.
Downtown Novato businesses pushed for the station, eager for the visitors and spending trains may bring.
"I have a barber shop in Old Town, so I'm happy the station is here," said SMART commuter Joy Ambra.
"I think it will help to revitalize downtown so I'm very excited about it and other people are too."
But first, two weekends of horn noise, a noisy feature of safety testing.
In September, when SMART conducted safety tests for its new Larkspur extension to the south, sleepless residents went to court in an effort to stop it.
On several weekends, train horns were blaring non-stop during overnight hours, disrupting rest and riling residents.
Riders remember those complaints and wonder if Novato is next.
"I'm sure there will be some people who aren't happy with it, but it's necessary," said SMART commuter Nikki Thomason. "It's for the good of passengers that we need to make sure the trains are safe."
There are big differences between the Larkspur and Novato tests.
Larkspur involved not only a new station, but several new crossings.
Downtown Novato is a new station, but the closest crossings are already operational.
"Larkspur was like adding on to your house, a new addition, versus what we're doing in Novato, more like remodeling a kitchen while you live there," said Lucan.
And since Novato's tests are of smaller scope, they can occur during service hours, so they are spread across day and night- instead of just the wee hours.
Still, once the horns howl, startled neighbors may chime in too.
"I'm sure we might hear from a few, " said Lucan, "but we'll know soon if we're able to do this in a couple of weekends or if it will be more drawn out."
Both the Larkspur extension and downtown Novato station are aiming to begin service by the end of the year.
Details on the bus bridge arrangements and the testing schedule can be found here: