The first shipment of concrete ties to rebuild the rail line between Sonoma and Marin counties for passenger trains was delivered to Santa Rosa by rail Thursday, a milestone as construction gets under way.

"Everything we do from now on is a big step; it is finally happening," said SMART Chairwoman Valerie Brown. "Now there is the expenditure of the money, the hiring of people. There are going to be a lot things that will be occurring that people will see. We are building a railroad."

About a dozen people were at Railroad Square as the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co. train rolled to a stop with the ties on a flatbed car. It also was hauling a couple of empty grain cars.

"This is real exciting, I like the sound," said Nancy Hamilton of Santa Rosa. "I am excited about the train coming back."

Andrea Jolicoeur of Santa Rosa was watching the trains with her children, Mina, 7, and Laszlo, 4.

"We saw the train here, so we stopped, because it is so rare and because we are excited about the trains coming through here again," Jolicoeur said.

The ties are the first of 90,000 that will be used along the 38.5 miles of rail line between Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa and downtown San Rafael.

The first shipments of 30,000 ties will be stored at a construction yard set up in Railroad Square in Santa Rosa by the contracting firm Stacy and Witbeck Inc. The others will be stored in Rohnert Park and Petaluma.

Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which has been operating for about a year on the rail line, will be delivering most of the construction material for SMART's reconstruction project.

"This is the beginning of a flood of material coming in," said Scott Bowdish, Stacy and Witbeck construction manager. "We will be NWP Co.'s biggest customer for the next two years."

Alameda-based Stacey and Witbeck Inc. and Missouri-based Herzog Contracting Corp. have the contract for work from Santa Rosa to the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael, at a cost of $103 million.

The work begins at Third Street in Santa Rosa and will proceed south to Petaluma.

Workers are now cleaning up the right-of-way and working on drainage before the existing ties will be removed, the rail bed replaced and the concrete ties and rail installed.

The new track is designed for trains running at 79 mph, much faster than NWP's freight trains that now deliver grain to Petaluma.

John Williams, NWP president, said the company will haul the ties on 330 rail cars and will bring in the steel rail in 1,600-foot lengths.

The ties are manufactured by CPX in Spokane, Wash., and each weighs 650 pounds. The rail is manufactured by Rock Mountain Steel in Pueblo, Colo.