Tag Archives: trains

Ferries, trains and automobiles: a somewhat SMART way for Sonoma County to do a weekend in San Francisco

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

I love train travel. I’m no expert on the viability of SMART, but I can tell you I won’t soon forget that ride. After passing Rohnert Park, we looked out on a thin ribbon of clouds just below the thickets of oak that crown the eastern mountains. Between Petaluma and Novato, we passed among wetlands where birds great and small hovered and glided over and dipped into shallow green waters. Along the route we saw vineyards and ranchettes, farms and grazing lands — most of them unseen from the freeway to our west, and all of them beheld from a fresh vista.

Call me crazy, but for the past year I’d wanted to take the SMART train and Golden Gate ferry to San Francisco.

Readers may remember that last year I wrote about traveling there with my wife, Carol, cruising by motor scooter along the back roads of Sonoma and Marin counties and across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had loved that adventure, and we were ready to try yet another way to get to “Baghdad-by-the-Bay”, as famed newspaper columnist Herb Caen used to call his town.

The wildfires that struck Oct. 9 didn’t change our plans, especially when our home remained safe and the threats of evacuation had passed. If anything, by the third weekend of October I was all the more ready for a break after two weeks of breathing smoke and covering stories in the ashes of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.

For anyone contemplating a “weekender” jaunt away from Sonoma County — for a Giants game, a concert, a bright-lights-big-city event — what we found venturing forth suggests both potential and some limitations of today’s North Bay public transit system.

We set out on a Friday morning for my maiden passage on SMART. The first challenge we faced was getting to the station. For that, I pulled out my smart phone and opened the Lyft ridesharing app. I’m not tech savvy, but I easily managed to request a ride. Within seven minutes we were seated in the back of a Kia sedan and on our way to the downtown Santa Rosa station. Cost: $11.96.

After stopping for a tasty hot chocolate at nearby Aroma Roasters, we walked past the historic stone train depot and climbed the platform. There we discovered that SMART was offering free rides that day due to the fires (normally the cost is $9.50 to San Rafael using a Clipper Card, which is accepted by all forms of public transportation in this story). A few minutes later the 8:31 a.m. train rolled up, and a highlight of our journey began.

Read more at: Ferries, trains and automobiles: a somewhat SMART way for Sonoma County to do a weekend in San Francisco

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation

SMART eyes eastbound rail extension toward Solano County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Up and running for less than three months on a portion of its planned 70-mile route, the North Bay’s new commuter rail line is pursuing a plan to branch out to Solano County, where it would connect with the national rail system running from coast to coast.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system already owns 25 miles of track from Novato to the north end of Vallejo and would acquire use of the tracks from there to an Amtrak station at Suisun City.

“You gotta have a vision so you can get places,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager. At Suisun City, North Bay passengers could “go anywhere in the country,” he said.

The proposed extension, known as the Novato-Solano Hub, is included in the 2018 California State Rail Plan drafted by Caltrans as a blueprint for boosting ridership on the statewide rail and bus system from 110,000 daily trips currently to more than 1.3 million daily trips by 2040.

Read more at: SMART eyes eastbound rail extension toward Solano County

Filed under Transportation

North Bay bike share program seeks $1 million grant 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Getting to and from local rail stations could one day be as easy as riding a bike if Sonoma and Marin counties win a $1 million grant to set up a regional bike sharing program.

Transportation planners from both counties are hoping that funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will allow them to build a network of about 180 rentable bicycles.

The bikes are viewed not only as a way to help people shift to a low-impact form of transportation, but also to make it easier for Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit riders to get from rail stations to their next destination.

“Bike share programs offer the option for that last mile that makes transportation trips even more appealing,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

The SCTA and its counterpart to the south, the Transportation Authority of Marin, are jointly applying for about half of the approximately $2 million the MTC has made available for such programs in suburban areas, said Derek McGill, planning manager for the Transportation Authority of Marin.

While bike share programs have been very effective in urban areas, there is interest in seeing if they can be successfully rolled out in smaller cities, McGill said.

Read more at: North Bay bike share program seeks $1 million grant | The Press Democrat

Filed under Transportation

Caltrain electrification grant approved by feds

Casey Tolan and Katy Murphy, THE MERCURY NEWS

The grant had divided California’s congressional delegation. Republicans opposed it, arguing it would help the state’s high-speed rail project while Democrats vocally supported the grant.

In a stunning reversal, the Federal Transit Administration said Monday that it will approve a $647 million grant to electrify Caltrain tracks, nearly doubling capacity on the overburdened San Jose to San Francisco commute route.

The approval comes after months of delays and worries by Caltrain officials and Bay Area leaders that the Trump administration would cancel the grant. If the funding hadn’t been approved by June 30, the $2 billion track electrification project would have lost key construction contracts.

The electrification work will mean faster and more reliable trains on a 51-mile stretch of the Caltrain corridor along the Peninsula, offering more than 110,000 rides per day, up from 60,000. The project will also create 10,000 jobs in California and around the country. The first electric trains are expected to be in service by early 2021, if not sooner, and construction on the project should start in 60 to 90 days.

“This news, quite clearly, is electrifying,” said Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino. “This is all the major holidays wrapped into one with a beautiful Caltrain bow around it.”

Bay Area officials have been advocating for the electrification project for decades, and the federal grant was near its final approval under the Obama administration. But after Donald Trump took office, Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao declined to sign off on it.

Read more at: Caltrain electrification grant approved by feds

Filed under Transportation

Though shovels are ready, Trump officials delay grant for Caltrain upgrade

Juliet Eilperin, THE WASHINGTON POST

The railway shuttles 65,000 people a day between San Francisco and San Jose, its cars crammed with Silicon Valley workers tapping on sleek laptops and hoisting bikes into designated cars. But the signs of aging are unmistakable — 1980s control panels devoid of digital technology, the dusting of sea-green foam that has escaped from the seat cushions and settled on the floor.

All of that was supposed to change with the launch of a $2 billion upgrade, underwritten in part by a $647 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration approved days before President Barack Obama left office. But then the Trump administration arrived, and within a month the FTA informed Caltrain that it was “deferring a decision.”

The delay has infuriated California officials, who had hoped the long-awaited project would mesh nicely with President Trump’s call for fresh spending on the nation’s aging infrastructure. But in this era of distrust and polarization, an otherwise popular initiative has become a GOP target, seen as a pet project of the former president.

The move to shelve the grant is reverberating far beyond the Golden State, alarming officials in cities across the nation. The White House wants to slice nearly $1 billion from the transportation budget this year, with the cuts aimed primarily at urban transit projects such as the Purple Line in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Read more at: Though shovels are ready, Trump officials delay grant for Caltrain upgrade – The Washington Post

Filed under Transportation