The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Authority released a final train schedule Wednesday for upcoming passenger service that includes 34 trips on weekdays, four more than originally planned, and trains operating later in the evenings.
SMART’s schedule is a crucial element of its service that, along with fares, will determine to a large extent who uses the trains and who opts for other means of transportation.
The trips will run mostly on a 30-minute schedule operating along the 43-mile route from north Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael.
SMART officials said they are planning more service during peak hours and to run trains later in the evening based on public feedback to earlier drafts of the schedule. But already there are grumblings about the final timeline as SMART moves to launch passenger service, possibly within a month.
Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, told the agency’s board of directors Wednesday that the schedule represents a “very good beginning,” one he said can be adjusted based on ridership. But he also acknowledged some will be disappointed.
“Every train, or bus, or ferry schedule you see leaves somebody out for some reason,” Mansourian said.
SMART faces the challenge of operating trains on a schedule that meets most riders’ needs and links with other public transit agencies. The rail agency will operate four two-car trains along what is mostly a single track, further complicating scheduling efforts.
The full trip, including 30-second stops at all 10 stations, is planned to take 67 minutes. In the past, SMART said the journey would take under an hour.
The agency in the past also said it would operate seven two-car units along the route — the sum total of equipment it has on hand. But a spokeswoman with the agency Wednesday said SMART needs more staff and approval from federal railroad regulators before it can put more trains into service.
SMART directors, who were not given advance copies of the final schedule, reacted with mixed reviews to the timeline Mansourian presented at the start of Wednesday’s meeting.
Director Daniel Hillmer, Larkspur’s vice-mayor and the newest member of the board, was critical of several longer gaps between trains on the schedule, including 90-minute windows during peak commute hours for riders arriving and leaving the downtown San Rafael station.
For instance, there will be no trains arriving in San Rafael between 7:26 and 8:56 a.m., and none departing that station between 4:59 and 6:29 p.m.
“It seems to me that if I have a 9-to-5 job, those are the times I would want to use the train,” Hillmer said.
Director Gary Phillips, San Rafael’s mayor, concurred, saying those windows are “the optimal time to arrive and depart, and we completely miss that.”
SMART officials said the gaps are because of a combination of factors, including the number of rail cars that will be in service and the need to leave some cushion for cleaning and maintenance needs.
Mansourian told directors that adjusting the schedule in any significant way would require major adjustments to the entire timeline, as it is all synced.
SMART Director Eric Lucan, a Novato councilman, said the difficulties setting a schedule are similar to what the rail agency faced in deciding fares.
“You don’t know what you don’t know. You have to pick something,” Lucan said.