Sunday, July 23, 2017

On The Train

For years there has been talk about a passenger train to connect northern Sonoma County with San Rafael in Marin County. Over a hundred years ago such a train was available but then the automobile took over. The right of way was still there, but the tracks and infrastructure were shot. After lots of talk, hard work, political maneuvering to get state and federal funding, and some local votes to allow for extra sales tax to help fund it, the SMART train is now a reality.

Soon they will begin giving rides to paying customers, but this month they offered some free trips. What an excellent way to lure future paying riders. Yesterday Sweetie and I, Straight Shooter, and the neighbors we have Sunday breakfast with, all took the train from the first station by the Schultz Airport down to San Rafael and then back again.

Each way took about an hour and 15 minutes and it gave tantalizing views of parts of each county that we had never seen before. There is an amazing amount of undeveloped land in our two counties near the train, but we mostly travel by car where it is developed.

That's one of the appeals of train see areas that are otherwise hidden.

These are lovely new diesel trains with very comfy seats, tray tables like on an airplane, outlets so that one could plug in a laptop (although we left ours at home), overhead shelves to hold bags, hooks to hold bikes, and a sturdy handhold at the end of each pair of seats so that those standing have a place to hold on. By the second stop those handholds were needed. Even though they had added trains, this was a popular free ride!

Because of the added trains, we weren't able to go to the car that had refreshments while the train was moving. Those in the last two cars could. Refreshments sales benefit a local non-profit that helps disabled folks become independent.

The ride is very quiet and smooth and the windows by each set of seats are huge, so you really see the sights as you move along. Some facing sets of seats have tables between them like in the dining cars of Amtrak trains I've been on. Otherwise, you are seated facing in one direction. On the way back, we were facing San Rafael, so we looked at where we had just been.

A group that does tableaus at the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery came all together, dressed in the costumes they wear for their performances, so they had cowboys, Victorian ladies, some with clothes from the teens and twenties of the twentieth century...such fun!

My favorite section was between Petaluma and Novato. It is often a swampy area, with tidal sloughs, but we also saw man made ponds and hundreds of waterfowl...ducks, geese, and heron mostly.

It's an area that is only accessible by water or the train and is hidden from view of the highway by tall hills with live oaks sprinkled on them.

Very unspoiled and scenic and very close to two major urban areas, too.

Not all the scenes are bucolic. There are plenty of places where being by the railroad lends itself to junkyards, bus yards, gravel yards, lumberyards, boatyards and industrial buildings. We saw backyards, a golf course right next to the train tracks,

and roads where cars were stopped.

We even went through a tunnel on our way into San Rafael. The tunnel walls were inches from the sides of the train. No photos of the tunnel...too dark!

There is also a recycled bridge that raises and lowers near the Petaluma marina. No photo of the bridge, but here is the marina.

In about a year from this November there will be a spur that goes to the Larkspur Ferry terminal, but until then there is a bus from San Rafael transit mall to the ferry.

If you have about two hours each way you can take the train to the bus to the ferry to San Francisco! No driving needed, other than to get to the train station. Hope to do that soon and have lunch with my sister-in-law or my niece at the Ferry building in San Francisco, right by the bay.

I was afraid that the riders would be mostly men and mostly gray haired and there were plenty. Hard to believe that young people would want to ride the train, but I was wrong. There were all ages of folks, with teens, lots of young families and lots of women who love trains along with the guys. Straight Shooter sat next to a woman who takes train rides all over the U.S. for her vacations.

It was nice to get a break from the farmhouse bath project, although, after lunch at Charlie's in Windsor, we did go to the hardware store and buy the shower and vanity fixtures. Back to the grindstone today. We need to get that shower operational for Grandma!


  1. Awesome! We'd so hoped to move up that way, to take advantage of the new train line! Glad you took the ride!

  2. Glad we did, too. Hope that one day you find a job in our neck of the woods...we can all ride the train.

  3. So, so envious of you all up there and your bright, new, QUIET, shiny train!

    Now if only we could persuade the powers that be to upgrade BART so SMARTly...

  4. I remember riding BART when it was new...shows how old I am! It was pretty smooth then. Guess it's showing it's age, too. Unfortunately the labor costs are astronomical so the trains themselves get short shrift.