SMART tells north Sonoma County train fans to keep the faith

Re-energized directors of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system unveiled a new slogan and train color scheme Tuesday in a presentation intended to bring north Sonoma County residents up to speed on the planned passenger service.

"There is a train coming to town" is the new slogan for the sleek, green-and-silver motorized train cars that are expected to be running by late 2015 or early 2016 between Marin and Sonoma counties.

Even though funding shortfalls have made it uncertain when the trains will reach Healdsburg, Windsor and Cloverdale, SMART is planning express bus service to link those communities with the train in Santa Rosa.

The delay of the train service didn't seem to bother about 40 people attending the informational meeting in Healdsburg. They heartily applauded Cloverdale resident La Reva Myles' impromptu a cappella rendition of "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie" and the refrain "Take me right back to the track, Jack."

Tuesday's meeting comes on the heels of the failure of SMART opponents to gather sufficient voter signatures to force an election to repeal the sales tax funding the train system. It also cleared the way for the district to accelerate plans for building the two-county rail line.

Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge, a SMART board member, described Tuesday's program as part of an emphasis on public outreach by the SMART directors, a type of "speaker series" to service clubs, chambers of commerce and other groups.

"There's a lot of misunderstanding out there," she said in an interview prior to the meeting at Healdsburg City Hall chambers. "This is a chance to take all 12 board members, to get out into individual communities, keep people updated and let them ask questions."

At Tuesday's meeting SMART officials described commuter trains that at peak times will run every 30 minutes at speeds up to 79 miles per hour. There will be less frequent service on weekends.

When a quarter-percent sales tax was approved in 2008 by voters in Marin and Sonoma counties to fund SMART, the project was described as a 70-mile line with an accompanying bicycle and pedestrian path that would stretch from Larkspur to Cloverdale.

But the downturn in the economy and resulting sag in sales tax revenue resulted in a new plan — a system built in stages, starting with service from the San Rafael to north Santa Rosa at Guerneville Road.

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