A new California State Rail Plan specifies just that, with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit making its way from Novato to Fairfield-Suisun or near Vallejo then hooking into Capitol Corridor service. The 170-mile Capitol Corridor extends to Auburn and San Jose and links into other transit lines.
“At the state level they are now looking at SMART as a way for connecting communities and they are looking at how to connect SMART to the Capitol Corridor,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager. “They see SMART as part of an entire state system. That’s the significant part of this.”
In part, the state report reads: “Evaluate expansion of rail service from San Rafael, Sonoma, and Napa Counties to Solano County, considering rail service primarily on existing rail alignments with potential connections to the statewide network at Fairfield-Suisun or near Vallejo.”
SMART owns roughly 25 miles of track eastward adjacent to Highway 37 which would help make the connection referenced by the state. Trains would go east from the Ignacio Wye in Novato near Highway 37.
“Going east presents an interesting opportunity,” said Bill Gamlen, SMART’s chief engineer, who would be tasked with figuring out how to get it done.
The rail agency is not sitting idle. SMART has applied for an $836,000 state planning grant to look at the feasibility of sending trains eastward.
“We are very excited to go north, but also start looking to connect east,” Mansourian said. “We see this as a tremendous opportunity that the state has provided us.”
The line wouldn’t be built for some time. It would be 2040 before the connection from Marin and Napa counties to the state network at a Solano County hub would be built.
The plan also calls for half-hourly peak and hourly off peak service between Cloverdale and Larkspur corridor with express bus connections from San Rafael to San Francisco and Richmond by 2040.
Plans to go east could be upset by sea level rise. The report notes SMART’s line San Rafael to Petaluma and its line parallel to Highway 37 are at risk.
The rail plan assesses funding and notes the new state gas tax — which went into place last week — as a funding source along with California’s Cap-and-Trade program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Locally, Marin and Bay Area residents will likely be asked to approve a toll hike for state-owned bridges, including the Richmond-San Rafael, in 2018. If approved, it could provide money for rail in the region. If the toll increase — known as Regional Measure 3 — gets on the June 2018 ballot and is approved, a $3 toll increase would raise $381 million annually. A toll increase could also be phased.
The rail report sees a bright future for trains in the state.
“The creation of a railroad network in California in the 19th century connected us to the rest of the nation with what was then the highest-speed form of transportation,” the report says. “Continued rail investments in the 20th century helped California’s rapid economic development. For the 21st century, California is again poised to put ‘high speed’ back in rail.
“By 2040, Californians will have access to an integrated, state-of-the-art rail system that will revolutionize personal mobility and enhance quality of life.”