A Rail System for the Counties of Sonoma and Marin

Normally in an area as rural as Sonoma or Marin, which have very low overall densities, rail would be hard to justify. But with most urban development clustering close to a single travel corridor, andwith land use rules intended to concentrate further development, rail service makes sense here.

What kind of service?

The primary function of the rail service would be to carry transit riders from one city to another in Sonoma and Marin. In the beginning it would be oriented to commuters, but over time would serve an ever broader mix of trip purposes.

This line would serve one-way trips of lengths initially averaging about 26 miles, based on the figures below. These trips would be longer on average than trips on intra-city Light Rail Transit, for example. As the service matures and more train runs are added (and land use adjusts around the stations) more short trips will be attracted, and the average trip will become shorter. The limiting factor will be the spacing between stations. With average station spacings over 5 miles, and only a couple pairs of stations within the same cities, most trips will always be over 5 miles.

What kind of trains?

A new kind of train for a new kind of service. For Sonoma and Marin counties, the objective would be to have something like light rail (LRT), but economical enough to run through long stretches of permanently protected open space.

LRT isn't economical enough for this situation, because the continuous electric power supply lines are too costly for a service that carries long trips at a low boarding rate, and doesn't require frequent starting and stopping.

Locomotive-hauled trains are only economical when the locomotives are pulling enough cars. Such trains would be too long for the stations that can be provided in all Sonoma and Marin cities.

The Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) is perfect for this situation. It is essentially a heavy duty articulated bus, with the necessary crash resistance to run on rails, and the passenger amenities possible only with rail. At low ridership levels, a single car could be used, with capacity for 90 passengers.

Colorado Railcar
Colorado Railcar Glass Domed Aero DMU       
 Additional photos
Manufacturer website


This map of the system is copied from the SMART website. On that website, you can click the map, and a larger map with somewhat greater detail will open.

• Cloverdale: Existing Station
• Healdsburg: Historic Depot
• Windsor: Transit Center at Windsor Road & Windsor River Road
• Santa Rosa: Historic Depot & Jennings Avenue
• Rohnert Park: 101/Golf Course Drive Interchange
• Cotati: Cotati Ave at Industrial Road
• Petaluma: Historic Depot & New Site
• Novato North: Atherton and101, NW Quadrant
• Novato South: Bel Marin Keys & 101, NE Quadrant
• Civic Center: Civic Center Drive & 101
• San Rafael Second and Third or Third & Fourth at Tamalpais
• Ferry Terminal: San Quentin or Larkspur

Ridership and Revenue Forecast

The ridership forecast was prepared using very conservative assumptions — that there would be essentially no change in the prevailing auto oriented development patterns, and no new impediments to solo driving. In the near term that is probably realistic and prudent. But these figures should be viewed as an initial threshold. Much higher ridership can be achieved through actions described elsewhere on this website.

Daily Home-Based Work Trips Southbound (1)
Daily Home-Based Work Trips Northbound (2)
Total Daily Home-Based Work Trips
Total Annual Passenger Miles (3)
Total Annual Passenger Revenue (4)

1 Represents a round trip work trip that begins southbound in the morning and returns northbound in the evening.
2 Represents a round trip work trip that begins northbound in the morning and returns southbound in the evening.
3 Based on mileage between station pairs and an annual work year of 238 days.
4 Based on a fare of ten cents per passenger mile.

Produced by Schiermeyer Consulting Service for SMART

Download full report dated March 29, 2002 — 1Mb pdf file


For further discussion of development in Sonoma and Marin, and a map graphic showing population concentrations and station locations, see patterns.

Rail Station Access

The success of the rail element of the transit system depends on the links between the stations and trip origins and destinations, or rail station access.


The decision making body for planning, development and operation of the passenger rail system in Sonoma and Marin counties is the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit Commission, SMART.


Bus vs. Rail