SMART celebrates one year of service; in it for the long haul

On 43 miles of track linking Marin and Sonoma counties, California’s newest passenger rail commuter system is about to celebrate its first full year of operation on Aug. 25th. Marking the occasion there was an event at the Novato Hamilton Station on Aug. 18th while train rides were free all weekend, according to SMART in an Aug. 15, 2018 press release.

North (San Francisco) Bay Area SMART riders appear to appreciate the service very much. For the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train’s first year, there is every reason to be excited. There were some 700,000 boardings in all. If averaged over seven days per week, 365 days, riders made almost 2,000 trips daily.

SMART was created to provide a non-road alternative to busy California State Route 101. The railroad parallels that thoroughfare for all 43 miles between North Santa Rosa (airport station) in Sonoma County and San Rafael in Marin County to the south. By the end of 2019, an additional approximately two miles will be in service reaching the San Francisco Ferry Terminal at Larkspur to San Rafael’s south.

Perhaps the single best aspect of the whole SMART operation is that the agency that runs the train not only has it met its budget for the entire year, but has done so with flying colors! I’m not sure how many transit agencies operating in the United States could make such a claim in their first year. What SMART has achieved is truly impressive!

Even so, there are critics, some of whom contend that the money spent building the system could have been better applied elsewhere as in it going into road improvements. That’s an old worn-out refrain.

California SR 101 on Cotati Grade

Others, apparently, have claimed the train has yet to cover serious ground, where alleviating Highway 101 traffic congestion, is concerned. And there is a chorus of voices arguing that the passenger rail service hasn’t yet reduced in the atmosphere emissions of greenhouse gases by any appreciable level, apparently.

Mathematically speaking

Well, what do you say we do the math? Yearly boardings, nearly 700K. At an average commute length of, say, 10 miles per commuter five days per week sustained over a 52-week duration, assuming 1,500 trips per weekday taken, you’re looking at 780,000 annual miles of travel on trains on this SMART corridor alone.

Using a more conservative figure of 750,000 (30,000 fewer per-year miles tallied) or three-quarters of a million, knowing that for every gallon of gasoline burned emits 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere, if all 1,500 per weekday riders each drove an internal-combustion-engine-powered motor vehicle in place of using the SMART train, using an average fuel-efficiency rating of 25 miles per gallon and with each road-user commuter rolling off 500 miles per annum, with fuel economy at an average 25 mpg, the amount of gasoline consumed by all of these 1,500 motor vehicles (this assumes each commuter commuting by automobile does so alone), this means 30,000 gallons of gasoline per year total burned. Therefore, the amount of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by cars if such were to be used in place of the train, comes out to 58,920,000 pounds or 29,460 annual tons of CO2.

If instead, all of these folks rode the SMART train which they do, 29,460 tons of CO2 is saved. With even more ridership, there is even more such CO2 savings potential. And, that’s just CO2. It doesn’t include all those other nasty pollutants internal-combustion-engine-equipped motor vehicles emit.

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that these are all ball park numbers. It’s also important to keep in mind that the trains themselves possess internal combustion engines. In reality, the CO2 savings could be less, could be more. But, even with ball park figures, the example presented provides a reasonable representation.

Good goin’ SMART

All in all, SMART has held its own all this time and that’s admirable.

SMART: Happy one year anniversary, many, many, many more to follow. Keep up the excellent work!

For additional information, see: “SMART celebrates its first year of service with a festival on August 18 and free train service on the weekend of the event” here.

Image (above): Stephen Gold

This post was last revised on Jun. 21, 2020 @ 7:04 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel