Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit has received access to an exclusive pool of federal funding for a segment of track that would extend the commuter line from San Rafael to the Larkspur ferry terminal, SMART officials said.

Acceptance into the Federal Transit Administration's Small Starts program grants SMART $2.5 million to complete environmental and engineering work on the 2.2-mile segment.

SMART can now compete with about 50 other projects nationwide for federal funding to construct the segment, SMART general manager Farhad Mansourian said.

"I spoke with FTA administrator (Peter) Rogoff on Monday, who indicated that the progress we have made on the Larkspur extension warrants a place for the project at the federal table," Mansourian said.

Crews are working on the first phase of tracks between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. Trains are expected to run starting in 2016.

The Larkspur extension is considered a priority for SMART since it will connect the rail line with San Francisco-bound ferries, SMART spokesperson Carolyn Glendening said.

"The connectivity to the rest of the regional transportation network is significant," she said.

During the next phase of the project, engineers will work with the city of San Rafael to design a permanent crossing at Andersen drive, Glendening said.

The extension to Larkspuris expected to cost $35 million. To access the federal Small Starts money, SMART must find state or local matching funds.

The agency is also working on extending the line north of Santa Rosa and secured a $15 million regional grant earlier this year to build tracks to Airport Boulevard, Glendening said, adding that SMART is continuing to look for funding to extend the line to Cloverdale.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or