To Train or Not to Train? The Future of Passenger Rail on Santa Cruz’s Rail Trail.


Residents cross the Rail Trail trestle in Capitola. If train service were offered, secondary trestles would need to be constructed along the route for bikes and pedestrians. These secondary trestles are one of the largest contributors to the $130M price tag for a full Rail Trail build out. (photo courtesy of

Today the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) voted to approve the 2014 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and the most contentious element of the plan, by FAR, is the plan for passenger rail along the Rail Trail. Officially, the RTP guides spending and work out to the year 2035, however it’s effective lifespan is more like 4 years, at which point a new plan will be adopted.

Commissioners Bustichi and Johnson, who are both also members of the Scotts Valley City Council, spoke adamantly against passenger rail because it will be an expensive form of public transit that won’t serve their region of the County and will draw funds away from SC METRO (which does). The largest argument in favor of passenger rail is to relieve traffic along Highway 1, particularly to provide alternative transportation to Watsonville commuters who drive north to work at UCSC and Dominican Hospital, among other places. And yet, the Commissioner representing Watsonville, Eduardo Montesino, expressed doubt that his constituents would use the train at all since the Watsonville stations would be located at the South-East part of the City, the opposite direction from most residents North-West commute to Santa Cruz. “People aren’t going to go backwards to go forwards. I don’t think they’ll use rail at all,” Montesino said.

Commissioner Johnson moved to postpone voting on the RTP as the US-Germany match was happening simultaneously and therefore the vote was taking place, “in a back closet, out of public view.” The motion came very close to passing (5-6).

Ultimately the RTP was adopted, rail and all, in part due to Commissioner Andy Shiffren’s advice that without approving a plan now, the County would fall behind State and Federal Processes and loose funding. He reminded the Commission that the effective time frame for the plan was really just 3-4 years, not 2035 as the title suggests.

After the RTP was approved, the train again took center stage. SCCRTC staff presented on possible goals for passenger rail and station locations. They plan to begin conducting public outreach for input on passenger rail as soon as July 17th, when the first public meeting is scheduled. $180,000 has been approved for this first phase of passenger rail feasibility studies.

During public comment, several members of the public spoke out against passenger rail. Brian Peoples from Aptos called the need for duplicate trestles across the 17 streams and gulleys the Rail Trail crosses “unrealistic.”The existing trestles will carry the train, new ones will need to be constructed for pedestrian and bike traffic. This is a large portion of the $130 million price tag for a complete Rail Trail build out.

All this is to say…What do you think? Is the sentiment against the train coming from a vocal minority or do these people speak for you as well? Answering that question is precisely why we started Civinomics. So, please vote now on the motion: Should the SCCRTC cancel plans for passenger rail along the Rail Trail in favor of a bike and pedestrian only option?







  1. Stephen Hauskins says:

    If the train were electric that would work better. But I think just have a bike and pedestrian path is much better.

  2. Emily Brown says:

    I’d like to know how going one way or the other might help with Santa Cruz’s problem with drug addicts showing up on our doorstep. I have heard that they walk around the railroad tracks to get to town undetected by law enforcement. Is this true? If so, is it reasonable to assume that removing the tracks and putting in a walking/biking path would deter them?

    • Barry Scott says:

      I think it likely that the drug and graffiti problems would be less with train traffic because engineers are able to report these, people will find a different place to go, and having any traffic at all should diminish bad acts from happening.

  3. Rtc Staff says:

    Join the 1000+ people who have taken the full Passenger Rail Study survey to provide your ideas about whether rail transit is in Santa Cruz County’s future, potential station locations, service considerations, and goals.

  4. Barry Scott says:

    We should retain the rails and add bike and pedestrian paths where practical. That transit corridor is publicly owned, a vital asset and it “use for the greater good” needs to consider future needs and future generations. Keep the rails. PS, I’m a taxpaying homeowner in Rio Del Mar.

  5. Barry Scott says:

    Rail is moving forward; we are ON TRACK!
    I was present during the full session of the June 4 SCCRTC hearing last Thursday in Watsonville and can report these facts:

    • Rail is feasible, there are no findings to suggest that it is not feasible;
    • Funds come from multiple state, federal, and local streams- not just the county;
    • Now we need to get further input and decide on which of seven plans is best;
    • We also need to look at which technologies work best, EMUs or DMUs, etc.
    • Public comments clearly favor the rail project.

    My three key points were:
    • The 32-mile corridor is part of a much broader state-wide intermodal system, can connect with other systems, ultimately take us anywhere. The rail part of that is vital and should be compatible with connecting rail types.

    • If we don’t build rail now, we must keep the option available, preserve the right of way and easements, and not count on “rail banking”, which can be overturned later.

    • We know it’s expensive up front but need to ask: “What are the Costs of Not Building the Rail?”

    I was happy to hear Watsonville mayor, Nancy Bilicich, remind us all that the rail is important to ALL county residents and communities, not just those in the Aptos-Capitola-Santa Cruz strip, and the solutions need to serve everyone, including South County, and not just a handful of cycling enthusiasts who want the corridor to themselves. THAT is not going to happen.

    Finally, apologies to any homeowners who bought property along an active rail right of way, probably at a discount, who will have to endure the sound of trains. They shouldn’t be surprised and they shouldn’t complain and they might like it! I happen to like the sound of trains.

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