SMART train pilot car debuts in Sonoma County

COTATI, Calif. (KTVU) -- A new era in Bay Area transportation is taking shape in the North Bay with a train system decades in the making as the first two of 14 SMART train cars made their debut Tuesday morning at the new Cotati Station in Sonoma County.

SMART -- which stands for Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit -- will reinstate passenger rail service in the region that was abandoned generations ago.

"Whenever people can travel safer, travel easier, spend more time with your family, devote more time to work and to the community, it's a better place to live," said Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson of Napa.

SMART's primary purpose is to provide an alternative to the increasingly congested Highway 101 commute corridor.

"Highway 101 is what I call, kiddingly our marketing plan," said SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian. Six two-car super-efficient diesel trains with table and airline type seating as well as a snack bar, will run every 30 minutes during commute.

"We're going to get you there in less than an hour while you drink latte and have WiFi on your laptop," said Mansourian.

This state-of-the-art transit system has a bit of a retro look.

"It's still got the stainless steel sides, kind of give you that old time feeling, you know? But operating wise, it's quiet; a lot quieter than the standard passenger equipment out nowadays," said Chief Engineer John Kerruish.

The SMART train will start operating in the fall of next year, initially running between northern Santa Rosa to San Rafael. Eventually the line will run all the way from Cloverdale down to the Larkspur Ferry Beyond commuting, the nearly $500 million system will be a major new way to promote and vastly increase tourism to the North Bay, especially on weekends.

"Connecting the San Francisco tourism magnet to Marin and Sonoma tourism is going be so huge for our businesses that I think, those who are ready are going to be very, very happy for it," explained Mansourian.

After more than a year of testing, debugging and proving the system, regular passenger service will begin late next year. The Larkspur Ferry connection will come on line at the end of 2017. The Cloverdale section of the line has yet to be funded.

After that, SMART will look to going east to Napa and Sonoma, reaching the very heart of Wine Country.