The public is getting more opportunities to get a free ride on the new SMART train.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit officials added additional free train rides between the Santa Rosa airport and the San Rafael stations as part of the “soft launch” of the new commuter rail system.
There will be five round trips per day this week on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, July 13, 15 and 16. Next week the free trips will be Wednesday, July 19 and Saturday and Sunday, July 22-23.
The trip on the 43-mile route spans 10 stations and take approximately one hour and 14 minutes each way, presenting an alternative to traffic-clogged Highway 101.
Trains depart every three hours throughout the day.
SMART last month started offering preview rides so the public can get acquainted with the new system and about 6,000 passengers took advantage of the free rides over the weekend, according to SMART spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding.
“It’s been great, wonderful. So far so good,” she said.
In some cases so many people showed up last weekend they had to wait for the next train. Ordinarily the two-car trains have a capacity of a little over 300 people. But because of the popularity of the freebie ride, SMART added an extra car giving each train a capacity of about 450 passengers.
She recommended passengers arrive 15 to 30 minutes prior to departure. Parking at the stations is free.
The first southbound train leaves the Sonoma County Airport station at 8 a.m. and the last departs at 8 p.m.
The first northbound train departs San Rafael at 9:30 a.m. and the last leaves at 9:30 p.m.
The debut of the commuter train has encountered numerous delays. A downturn in revenue from the voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax pushed the initial 2014 opening to late 2016. Further delays were caused by crank replacements in the rail cars’ diesel engines. Other setbacks were linked to warnings systems at some crossings and flooding in the Puerto Suello Hill Tunnel in San Rafael.
Federal officials are completing a review of the line’s positive train control system, which automatically shuts down service in emergencies such as derailments caused by excessive speed.
Mariani-Belding said it in uncertain when the review will be completed. Even without its completion, officials granted permission for limited passenger service.
”We are working in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration and reviewing test results and data. Whatever they say we need to do, we will do. Safety is our top priority,” she said.
Once final approval is gained, the North Bay’s newest transit agency will begin ramping up, eventually running 34 trains daily.
The seating areas on the green-and-silver trains have two-tone simulated leather upholstery and are equipped with power outlets. Free Wi-Fi runs throughout the train. Also in each train is a wheelchair-accessible bathroom along with capacity for 12 bicycles in each car.
There is also an onboard concession stand offering coffee, pastries, snacks, beer and wine.
A schedule of the trains is available at http://sonomamarintrain.org/smart-preview
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@clarkmas.