Free rides on SMART train as they test Sonoma-Marin service

NOVATO, Calif. (KGO) -- For the first time passengers are riding the SMART train, the first Sonoma to Marin area rail transit to operate in decades.

The company's website says, "Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) is the San Francisco Bay Area's newest transportation option for travel, offering passenger rail service in Sonoma and Marin counties. SMART's initial 43 miles of rail corridor includes 10 stations, from the Sonoma County Airport to Downtown San Rafael."

"We've been waiting for it for a long time and it's going to be fun, exciting and nice to be on the first trip," said passenger Joyce Martinez.

RELATED: SMART trains taking passengers on test rides in the North Bay

Eager passengers entered the cars excited to experience the train first hand. They found cushioned seats, free Wi-Fi and an on-board snack shop. John Vonerbson loves the extra wide windows and the opportunity they present.

"I want to see what the back yards look like, I've always been up and down highway 101. This is a chance to see sites I didn't see before," said Vonerbson.

"This is a huge day for us, we've waited too long to have the public on board. This is a huge day for us," said Jeanna Mariani-Belding, a spokesperson for SMART train.

Thursday afternoon's preview ride is just that. SMART does not yet have the green light from the Federal Railroad Adminsitration to fully open.

They're in the final testing phase of a new safety feature, to be standard on all trains someday, called 'positive train control.'

"It's designed to stop the train in the event that it goes over speed and, if for whatever reason our engineer cannot, it will bring the train safely to a stop," Mariani-Belding.

Still, passengers gave it glowing reviews.

RELATED: BART security cameras now keeping eye on all train cars

"It's extraordinary, it's modern, very comfortable by the way," said passenger Patrick McKrell.
Jazmin Johnson, one of the many young train enthusiasts on board is riding with her mom, from their home in Rohnert Park to the Marin Civic Center.

"It's fun, it takes you everywhere!" she said. "It's really awesome. I love it."

"We might just be taking the train and going on adventures!" shared Caryl Demerrit, who with her husband, have been waiting for years to see the first stretch of the train route.

"It's spacious, it's roomy, I love it, it's wonderful, we've been waiting anxiously for it," said Demerritt, who lives in Healdsburg.

The train was set to open last fall, but that was delayed over diesel engine issues. And SMART is still building the Larkspur extension, which scheduled to open in 2019. Fundraising for a Northern extension to Cloverdale is ongoing.

SMART trains will offer free roundtrip preview rides this Thursday, Saturday and on the Fourth of July.

The transit line hopes it will run a full commuter schedule soon.

"We are in the homestretch, we are waiting the final federal approval, so we anticipate to be starting up real soon," said Mariani-Belding.

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