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SMART rail to be a boon for local businesses, officials say

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit service is set to have a significant impact on Marin and Sonoma employers, especially their employees’ commute times, according to SMART officials.

“We’re very excited to bring a huge option for those stuck in traffic on Highway 101, also known as parking lot 101,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager.

About 30 train trips will be scheduled daily, mostly geared toward commuter hours. SMART has been working with other transit operators, like City Bus in Santa Rosa, Petaluma Transit, Marin Transit, and others to coordinate service.

In the last two years, every local transit agency has made a presentation to SMART with regard to coordinating their schedules with that of the train, in some cases altering, or even adding service depending on the amount of ridership.

SMART is also working with chambers of commerce in Santa Rosa and Novato, and also Santa Rosa Junior College, about coordinating shuttle options.

SMART also has staff devoted to working with various companies about the possibility of private shuttle service for their employees, and Mansourian will speak more about that at the Business Journal’s Impact Marin Conference on Friday, March 25.

The project is also poised to bring an influx of tourists to the region, as funding has been secured for a 2.2-mile link from downtown San Rafael to the Larkspur ferry terminal, a critical component of the rail service. Construction is hoped to begin summer 2017, with operations starting in 2018.

In speaking with concierge leaders in San Francisco, Mansourian was told, “When you connect to the Larkspur station, the tourist influx will be huge. They’ve been dying to get to Marin and Sonoma, but don’t want to deal with Highway 101.”

SMART has also created hundreds and hundreds of direct and indirect local job that in turn generate additional economic activity. Local and Bay Area contractors involved in the project include Stacy Witbeck/Herzog, Shimmick Construction, Midvale Electric, Summit Signal, and Maggiora & Ghilotti Construction Company.

“We are very, very proud to contribute to the local economy, especially during some of the worst economic times,” said Mansourian.

The last piece of the train system is currently under construction. In October, work began on building station amenities including platforms, benches, and installing ticket machines, starting at the San Rafael site, and all stations should be in place by fall 2016, weather permitting.

The train cars each have 79 seats with standing room available for about 80 people. The cars will also feature space for bikes, wheelchair lockdowns, Wi-Fi service and, in some cases, snack and beverage bars, including beer and wine sales.

The trains have a top speed of 79 mph, but with stops the average likely will be 45 mph.

SMART will start with 14 cars, initially configured in seven pairs, or trainsets, with two different car types. Type A cars have restrooms, while type B cars have a snack and refreshment center. Seats recline when not next to bulkheads, and there are some seats with tables. Large windows on each side of the cars provide views of the passing landscape and brighten the car interiors.

The next plan calls for the train to continue from Santa Rosa to Windsor, and the ultimate goal is a 70-mile line from the Cloverdale rail depot to the planned station across from the Larkspur ferry terminal.