SMART train begins free preview rides this week
What better way to generate buzz about a new transit service than to offer free rides? That's exactly what Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit will be doing starting Thursday.
Offering the public an early look at the North Bay's newest transportation system, SMART has scheduled three days of free rides June 29 and July 1 and 4, with more free ride schedules expected to be announced later this week.
”We're really excited to be able to finally let people on the trains to experience them,” said Debora Fudge, chairwoman of SMART's board of directors.
Fudge, the mayor of Windsor, said SMART has been granted permission by the federal government to allow limited passenger use while federal officials do their final review of SMART's positive train control, or PTC, an advanced safety system that automatically shuts down a train in the event of an emergency such as derailments caused by excessive speed.
She said SMART has fully tested the train's PTC system and will be offering free rides until the federal government approves paid passenger service.
“When we get that final permit, then we run 34 trains a day and start commuter service,” Fudge said.
SMART's soft-launch begins Thursday, with three free round-trip rides from between Rohnert Park and Marin Civic Center stations. Trains depart southbound from SMART's Rohnert Park Station at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Trains will depart northbound from the Marin Civic Center at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Riders can get on and off at any stop.
Then on July 1 and 4, SMART has scheduled a type of “excursion service” for Sonoma County residents planning to go to the Marin County Fair in San Rafael. Free rides will be offered between all stations between Sonoma County Airport Station and the Marin Civic Center station, which is near where the fair will take place. Riders on these trains also can get on and off at any stop.
The train will start at the Sonoma County Airport Station at 5 p.m. and arrive at the Marin Civic Center at 6:01 p.m. On both days, the train will be held at the Marin Civic Center until after the fireworks, departing back to Sonoma County at 10:36 p.m.
The train arrives at Sonoma County Airport Station at 11:37 p.m.
Free rides will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, said SMART spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding, who encouraged people to arrive early.
The specific schedules and station locations offered during the public review period are based on thousands of responses from the public, SMART said.
On Monday, one North Bay resident watched with curiosity as a SMART made a test stop at the Santa Rosa Downtown Station at Railroad Square.
Emily Porter of Mill Valley said she's been considering commuting between Marin County and her job at a winemaking supply company in Petaluma.
“I was wondering if it was going to be a viable commute but the commute is not that bad,” she said. “I reverse commute to Petaluma when everyone else is going to San Francisco.”
Rick James, who lives in Santa Rosa and works at Keysight Technologies, said he has no reason to use the new transit system as a commuter but wouldn't mind taking it for “fun family trips.” On Monday, James and his daughter, UC Santa Cruz student Kelsey James, spent part of the afternoon visiting Railroad Square.
Both joked they'd definitely ride the rail system if it went all the way to Santa Cruz.
“I hope it takes off, though. We've invested so much,” said the elder James. “It would be good to get people off the road.”
Kelsey, who is getting a graduate degree in cognitive psychology, said she had a chance to study abroad in Italy and loved riding the train. She said she admired how the various Italian public transit systems of buses, taxis and trains were connected. There's something nostalgic about riding the train, she said, adding that even a modern train “feels right.”
Mariani-Belding said the preview rides are aimed at getting local residents more familiar with the new transit system and how it works. She said later this week SMART will announce additional schedules for upcoming preview rides.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @renofish.