The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (“SMART”) District kicked off passenger rail revenue service in Sonoma and Marin counties last week. The 43-mile rail line includes ten stations from the Sonoma County Airport to Downtown San Rafael.

The new service operates across former Northwestern Pacific Railway Co. (“NWP”) rail line. Acquisition of the rail line dates back to 1969 when the California Legislature directed the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District to develop a transportation facilities plan. In its plan, the district recommended the preservation of right-of-way for rail service on the rail lines of the NWP.

Various public agencies acquired portions of the NWP corridor through the 1980s and 1990s when the California Legislature created the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority (“NWPRA”) to hold title to the right-of-way. The California Legislature then created the SMART District in 2002 to develop passenger rail service across the line and to dissolve the NWPRA. SMART only has authorization to operate passenger service. Freight rail is managed by another creature of the legislature, the North Coast Railroad Authority which outsources freight rail service to a short line operator.

SMART seeks to expand rail service to Larkspur, California. The expansion would extend the rail line 2.2 miles. The Larkspur extension is currently in the design phase.