As soon as the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) train doors slid shut and it edged away from the station during preview rides on Thursday, a giant cheer rose up from the crowd packed in the train car's seats and aisles.
"This is historic," said Tony Brown from Sausalito, as the car moved down the tracks, blowing its train whistle.
Thursday's soft opening of SMART marked the first public opportunity to ride the long-awaited train connecting Sonoma and Marin counties. In 2008, voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the train. And after many delays, people are understandably curious to see what they've finally gotten. Hundreds of train enthusiasts, prospective commuters and residents came out for the free round-trip rides between Rohnert Park and San Rafael. The free preview rides continue on Saturday, July 1, and Tuesday, July 4.
Officials had previously aimed for “late spring 2017” as a launch date for the train, after a design flaw delayed the 2016 launch and a downturn in the economy left the agency with insufficient funds to hit the original 2014 launch date.
Now it's finally here -- though only in preview mode.
Some passengers wore conductor hats or train-themed shirts; many of them are hobbyists or historians. "I'm a train buff," said Brown. "I love trains, and to have one coming to Marin County? I had to be here."