SMART opens train station in downtown San Rafael

Jericho Rajninger

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) opened the newest SMART Train station on Friday, Aug. 25. Located in downtown San Rafael on Third Street, the station is the southernmost addition to an 11-stop railway system connecting Sonoma County to San Rafael.

According to the Chair of the Board of Directors of SMART, Debora Fudge, the train has been a response to many of the unwanted side-effects of a pervasive vehicular world.

“[The SMART Train is meant] to reduce traffic on the US-101. It’s to give people options; it’s always good to have different ways to get around,” Fudge said. “The train is also better for the environment because there are less greenhouses gases with everyone on a train as supposed to in single occupancy vehicles. It’s more relaxing [than driving], and it gives you a better quality of life.”

Loading its passengers, the SMART Train sits at the San Rafael Station, the end of the line
Loading its passengers, the SMART Train sits at the San Rafael Station, the end of the line

According to Fudge, during weekdays 34 trains transport over 3,000 passengers, mostly commuters, up and down the rail. On weekends, only 10 trains roam the tracks, carrying a presumably smaller body of travelers. However, on both Saturday, Aug. 26 and Sunday, Aug. 27, 2,000 passengers squeezed into the 10 cars, eager to experience the new tracks.

Fudge believes riders will take the opportunity of convenient public transit to explore new areas across Marin which they wouldn’t otherwise visit by car. She has already seen a rise in foot traffic at restaurants and shops in the vicinity of the SMART station in San Rafael, and anticipates more visitors as the train becomes more popular.

In an effort to incentivize youth to ride public transit, SMART has discounted youth train tickets to 50 percent of the adult price. For example, a 20-minute ride from Downtown San Rafael to the Novato San Marin station costs $5.50 for adults and $2.75 for youth. According to Fudge, public transportation is the way of the future, and SMART wants to encourage youth to experience it.

Besides the price, senior Max von Franque believes the possibility of exploration will also spur Redwood students. While von Franque doesn’t think many Redwood students will ride the train to school, he anticipates weekend teenage passengers.

“There will probably be some people from Redwood or this community who will get on the train and go up there to look around,” von Franque said. “Today, people go into the city to hangout or go to Bolinas, maybe there will be some other attraction up North. [The train] is a new way to get to other places.”

While its ridership is focused mostly on North Bay transit, soon SMART will open a station in Larkspur, right across from the SF Bay Ferry Terminal. The Larkspur station will be the next addition to the system; SMART recently received federal funding and signed all contracts, allowing construction to begin in a few months.

Waiting for the SMART Train, commuters convene on the platform
Waiting for the SMART Train, commuters convene on the platform

Though this Larkspur extension is still well in the future, the opening of the San Rafael station has perked the interest of social studies teacher, Derek Denardo.

Denardo commutes to Redwood everyday from his home in Petaluma, sitting in traffic up and down the US-101 every day with drives often reaching or surpassing an hour in length. Though the SMART train doesn’t yet apply to Denardo’s commute, the opening of the San Rafael station means he is one step closer to avoiding lengthy morning and afternoon drives. While he waits, Denardo is beginning to consider his options.

“In economics, we weigh these things: the opportunity cost versus the opportunity benefit,” Denardo said. “Even if the costs are higher than the benefit, I am willing to still do it if they’re not too unbalanced.”

For Denardo, the decision is both time-related and monetary. While the train ride may not necessarily be shorter than the drive, he recognizes his commute time would be better spent grading papers on the train than sitting at the wheel. And, as long as ticket prices are reasonable, Denardo believes the train will be an attractive alternative to the parking lot that is the US-101 at rush hour.