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Truly Smart Rail for Vancouver Island

An infamously badly congested highway in a growing, popular southern region paralleled by a storied and troubled rail line later owned by a transcontinental railway, and once served with a Budd railcar. Tall forests on the west coast also served with a tourist line. Limited freight train service with potential to grow. A growing bike/walkway network adjacent or near the tracks. Ferries to a large famous city popular with tourists the world over. And attractive passenger rail now provided by state-of-the-art bike-friendly railcars on rebuilt tracks.


It sounds like the Island’s rail system. You would be right, except the last part. But that’s the hope. The above describes SMART (www.sonomamarintrain.org) Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, located in the Sonoma and Marin counties north of San Francisco, California. It owns the tracks of the Northwestern Pacific that was once owned by the Southern Pacific, now the Union Pacific. Passenger trains operated with ultramodern diesel multiple units (DMUs), of the same type used on the UP Express that links Pearson Airport with Toronto, operate on a 72 km route or roughly the distance from Victoria to Duncan. There are plans to extend it for a total of 113 km, or from Victoria to Nanaimo.


The rail service, which began in 2017, presently starts at Sonoma County Airport and ends at Larkspur, where there are passenger ferry connections to San Francisco. There are also connections with local bus services from the stations, including also to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. Commuters but also visitors and their families ride the SMART trains. SMART has proven to be very popular on weekends. For example it provides green access to the fabled wine country north of San Francisco.


This video shows the SMART alternative to driving on the typically slow and clogged U.S. 101:

SMART expansions are in the works. An extension north of the Sonoma County Airport to Windsor is slated to open later this year and there are plans to have the trains begin at Cloverdale. There is hope and promise that SMART passenger trains will eventually connect with the famous California Western ‘Skunk’ tourist trains at Willits, along with expanded freight service.


With the many parallels between SMART and the Island’s rail corridor would it not be worth while to investigate this example of a revitalized multimodal passenger and freight rail service integrated with other transportation modes, including bicycles? Including having conversations with the governments, operators, and businesses? And when the Canada-U.S. border reopens go for a visit, and a ride?


The facts are that over 80% of all Island Residents support the introduction of modern rail service. It will create economic prosperity while having the ability to drastically reduce GHGs and serve future generations. Interested in helping? Join the cause today!

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