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The Santa Cruz Rail Trail

Information about the Santa Cruz Rail Trail project, including updated news and Explainers.

  •   PUBLISHED FEB 27, 2022 UPDATED APRIL 2, 2024
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A map of the Santa Cruz County stretch of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail, known commonly as the Coastal Rail Trail, or the Santa Cruz Rail Trail.

A map of the Santa Cruz County stretch of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail, known commonly as the Coastal Rail Trail, or the Santa Cruz Rail Trail.   SCCRTC   Public Domain

The Santa Cruz County stretch of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail, better known locally as the Rail Trail, has been in the works for decades. It was envisioned as a pedestrian/bicycle pathway running the length of the county alongside the Santa Cruz Branch Line tracks—from just north of Davenport to Watsonville. Unlike some rail-trail projects that replace tracks with a trail, the Santa Cruz Rail Trail project envisioned a passenger train from the outset.

The Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission purchased the Santa Cruz Branch Line from Union Pacific in 2012. RTC secured money for the purchase from funds raised through 1990’s Proposition 116, the Rail Transportation Bond Initiative. While the groups who spearheaded the creation of the Rail Trail remain committed to the rail element, some individuals and organizations in the community question the viability of rail service on the corridor.

Phase 1 construction of some segments of the pedestrian/bicycle trail have been completed in the West Side of Santa Cruz and in Watsonville.

Santa Cruz County voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure D, a ballot initiative in the June 7, 2022 election. Measure D would have removed all mention of rail planning with regards to the Santa Cruz Branch Line from the county's General Plan, and called for a wider trail to be built.

Check out the articles below and/or click on the tabs above to learn more about this project.

Use the links in the right column to connect with local stakeholder organizations, and consider contacting the officials with oversight of this project to let them know your thoughts.

California Local Pin Marker Latest Explainers, Etc

Image caption: All aboard.
Annals of Democracy: Trains

UPDATED In which we ponder the things around which humans self organize.

Image caption: A completed segment of the rail trail on the West Side of Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz Rail Trail Project Documentation

Descriptions and links to primary source documents and other reference material about the Coastal Rail Trail.
Updated 3/3 with a link to the Santa Cruz County report on the impact of the Yes on Greenway Initiative on the county general …

California Media Alliance logo From Our Media Allies

KSQD logo
The TRUE Story of Santa Cruz Rail & Trail
For over 6 months, KSQD volunteer Christine Barrington worked on answering a simple question: What's the truth behind the story of rail and trail in Santa Cruz County?
Santa Cruz Local logo
Rail-Trail Money Threatened After Santa Cruz County Supervisors Vote
A Santa Cruz County supervisors vote on Tuesday shocked county staff and left an uncertain future for the rail-trail project through Live Oak, Capitola and Seacliff.
Santa Cruz Local logo
Passenger Rail Construction Expected in 2032 in Santa Cruz County
More than 11 years after the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission bought the aging Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, commission leaders are seeking input on a passenger rail project.

California Local Pin Marker Latest Digest

Image caption: All aboard.
Annals of Democracy: Trains

UPDATED In which we ponder the things around which humans self organize.

Image caption: A completed segment of the rail trail on the West Side of Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz Rail Trail Project Documentation

Descriptions and links to primary source documents and other reference material about the Coastal Rail Trail.
Updated 3/3 with a link to the Santa Cruz County report on the impact of the Yes on Greenway Initiative on the county general …

Image caption: A screen capture of Director Preston beginning his presentation at the Feb. 3 SCCRTC meeting.
RTC Director Preston: Railbanking Will Preserve the Santa Cruz Branch Line

A transcript of a presentation by SCCRTC Executive Director Guy Preston explaining why he recommends railbanking the Santa Cruz Branch Line.

Image caption: A screen capture from video of the SCCRTC meeting of Feb. 3, 2022.
Schiffrin: Just Say ‘No’ to Freight-Rail Abandonment

Santa Cruz Regional Transit Commission Alternate Andy Schiffrin argues against a proposal that would banish freight rail service, and kill rail on the rail trail.

Image caption: Over two weekends last October, residents of Santa Cruz and Watsonville  participated in demonstration rides aboard an electric streetcar on rails.
The ‘Rail Trail’ Movement, Explained

Thousands of miles of railroad track, including some in Santa Cruz County, now sit idle. The fate of those largely abandoned tracks has become a burning controversy.

Image caption: Miles Reiter, an opponent of rail and a board member for Greenway, walks the railroad tracks with a pole to show the width of the corridor.
GT Goes Deep on Rail Trail

In the spring of 2018, Good Times reporter Jake Pierce composed a five-part series on what was already a long-running battle over a complex issue.

Image caption: California transportation history runs from railroads to today’s car culture.
California’s History of Transportation: From Railroads to Highways

The history of transportation in California has shaped the state, from the railroads to today’s highways, making the need for planning increasingly urgent. Here’s how it all happened, and where we stand today.

Image caption: Rail Trail in red vs Delaware Avenue in green.
Keith Bontrager on SC Rail Trail

MTB-design pioneer Keith Bontrager compares the commute on a segment of the Santa Cruz Rail Trail with a ride on a parallel street.

Image caption: Looking northeast on the Santa Cruz Rail Trail near Bay and Lennox streets.
Fred Keeley: Vote No on Greenway

A June ballot initiative, Measure D, would kill nearly three decades of work to buy and repair a 32-mile existing rail line from Davenport, through Santa Cruz, all the way to Watsonville.

Image caption: A prominent supporter and opponent debate the Greenway Initiative.
Bud Colligan and Mark Mesiti-Miller Debate Measure D

The two most prominent voices on either side of this heated issue face off on KSCO-AM radio 1080, hosted by station owner Michael Zwerling.

Image caption: Local tech entrepreneur and confessed “bike nerd” explains his support of Measure D.
Lloyd Tabb: Yes on Measure D

The founder of local tech company Looker explains why he supports Measure D, the Greenway Initiative.

Image caption: Screenshot from a Greenway campaign video.
From Bud Colligan, Nadene Thorne & Bobbi Burns: ‘Clearing Up Misconceptions About Measure D’

Measure D, the Greenway Initiative, has generated more dialog than any measure in the history of Santa Cruz County. Why all the attention and unfortunate vitriol? Both sides of the issue believe strongly that their approach to dealing with our …

KSQD logo LOCAL NEWS
The TRUE Story of Santa Cruz Rail & Trail

For over 6 months, KSQD volunteer Christine Barrington worked on answering a simple question: What's the truth behind the story of rail and trail in Santa Cruz County?
After the first Measure D vote in 2016 confirming the citizen support …

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Rail-Trail Money Threatened After Santa Cruz County Supervisors Vote

A rendering shows a version of Segment 11 of the rail trail on Cliff Drive in Capitola. (Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission)
SANTA CRUZ >> A Santa Cruz County supervisors vote on Tuesday shocked county staff and left an …

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Passenger rail construction expected in 2032 in Santa Cruz County

Chatsworth-based Tig/M LLC demonstrates ‘Coast Futura,’ an electric, light-rail tram in Capitola in October 2021. The type of vehicle for Santa Cruz County’s passenger rail project has not been chosen. (Coast Futura — Contributed) 
SANTA CRUZ >> More than 11 …

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Santa Cruz rail-trail segment to finish in February

Work is expected to finish in February on a paved rail trail near California Street and the Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility. The path will run along the railroad tracks toward Neary Lagoon and Beach Street. (Tyler Maldonado — Santa …

Good Times logo LOCAL NEWS
Rail Trail Report Open For Public Review

The report details the environmental changes that might result from the rail trail

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Rail-trail permits approved in Santa Cruz, part of Live Oak

‘Ultimate’ path expected next to train tracks.

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Money approved for passenger rail planning

Early engineering, environmental work ahead

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Rail-trail construction to restart in Santa Cruz

Path to be paved from Bay Street to wharf

Image caption: The Hanford Viaduct, the largest structure of the High Speed Rail project currently under construction, will span more than a mile in length.
California Needs to Get Serious About Public Transportation

Unless the governor and Legislature address flaws in the way the state plans for and develops public transit and rail projects, California’s ambitious climate-related goals cannot be realized.

Good Times logo LOCAL NEWS
What Both Sides are Saying About Measure D

Supporters and opponents explain their positions on the controversial ballot measure

Good Times logo LOCAL NEWS
Who Really Controls Railbanking?

Whether Measure D passes or fails, here are all the parties who really control the railbanking decision

Good Times logo LOCAL NEWS
What Does Measure D Really Say?

There’s a lot of speculation about the ballot measure, but here’s what it would really do

The Pajaronian logo LOCAL NEWS
Council opposes Measure D

WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday night approved a resolution in opposition to Measure D, the divisive June 7 ballot measure that, if approved, would remove language from Santa Cruz County’s guiding planning document that relates to rail services, both …

San Lorenzo Valley Post logo LOCAL NEWS
Opinion: Greenway’s Measure D Represents More Delays and Deception

By Jayme Ackemann I’m supporting No on Measure D. If you frequent this space, you’re probably already clear that this column has a point of view. Each month I voluntarily break down some of the complicated infrastructure challenges we are …

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Explainer: Santa Cruz County’s rail trail ballot measure

Answers to readers’ questions about Measure D

Good Times logo LOCAL NEWS
Voters Will Determine Future of County’s Rail Line

In June, voters will decide whether to prioritize the development of a bike and pedestrian trail running from Watsonville to Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Rail-trail ballot measure outlined by Santa Cruz County staff

County leaders say approval would not rule out future rail.

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
Rail trail plans detailed

‘Interim’ project would replace some train tracks with paved path.

The Pajaronian logo LOCAL NEWS
Roaring Camp Pushes Back on Reported Railbanking Talks

It’s just after noon on Jan. 28, and a Roaring Camp train is getting ready to leave the station to wind its way up the Santa Cruz Mountains. “We’re two minutes late now, but that’s OK,” says the announcer on …

Good Times logo LOCAL NEWS
Disclosure Forms Show Backers on Both Sides of Rail Fight

The paperwork from both contingents were revealing.

Santa Cruz Local logo LOCAL NEWS
SC Local: RTC Meets Amid an Uproar

Controversial proposal to halt freight-rail service to be discussed.

Press Banner logo LOCAL NEWS
Setting the Record Straight

Recent information circulating in our community regarding both rail lines within Santa Cruz County has caused quite a stir. As many members of the public are aware, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) owns the rail corridor stretching …

San Lorenzo Valley Post logo LOCAL NEWS
SLV Fire Officials Respond to RTC: Oppose Forced Abandonment of the Felton Branch Line

January 26, 2022 Dear Supervisor McPherson and members of the SCCRTC: We write you today to urge you not to proceed with any efforts to abandon freight service on the Felton Branch Rail Line or the Santa Cruz Branch Rail …

San Lorenzo Valley Post logo LOCAL NEWS
Roaring Camp’s Future in Question: Transportation Commission Considers Forced Abandonment

In January, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that thanks to surplus budget revenues and a massive federal infrastructure investment package, our state would make more than $2 billion in funding available for rail and transportation projects. This seems like a less-than-ideal …

San Lorenzo Valley Post logo LOCAL NEWS
Accusations Abound as Electric Streetcar Demo Rolls Out

By Jayme Ackemann A private excursion train operator is hosting a demonstration project for one vision of rail service using a “ZEMU,” or zero-emission multiple unit, that could operate on tracks between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. The Coast Futura, operated …

Train options push ahead for Santa Cruz County rail corridor

Business plan to detail potential money sources

Rail Trail Segment Groundbreaking Celebrated

06/20/2024

The groundbreaking for the north coast segment of the Santa Cruz Rail Trail was held a Wilder Ranch State Park on June 20.

Passenger Vehicle Types Considered for Rail Trail

06/03/2024

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation is getting an early look at three potential passenger rail vehicles for the rail trail, with public open houses scheduled for June 25 and 26.

Rail Trail Segments Impact Mobile Home Parks

05/13/2024

The Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission has informed some residents of two mobile home parks in Live Oak of a need to move their units 1 to 4 feet due to encroachment over lot boundaries.

Rail Trail Vote to be Reconsidered

04/26/2024

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will reconsider their vote against approving segments 10 and 11 of the Coastal Rail Trail in their April 30 meeting.

Supervisor Responds to Rail Trail Vote Criticism

04/20/2024

Following his recent vote against approval of two segments of the Rail Trail, Supervisor Manu Koenig explains his decision.

Rail Trail Advocates Rally

04/04/2024

Supporters of the rail trail rallied in front of the Santa Cruz County building on April 3 to advocate for approval of segments 10 and 11.

State Grant Funding Threatened After Rail Trail Vote

04/01/2024

A recent split vote by Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors stalling approval of two rail trail segments is jeopardizing future state funding for the project.

Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors Deadlock Over Rail Trail

03/26/2024

Supervisor Zach Friend recuses, and Supervisors McPherson and Koenig voted against moving forward with segments 10 and 11 of the Coastal Rail Trail between 17th Avenue in Live Oak and State Park Drive in Aptos.

Santa Cruz County Supervisors to Consider Rail Trail EIR

03/15/2024

The over 2,000 page final environmental impact report for the Coastal Rail Trail Segments 10 and 11 is on the agenda for the March 26 County Supervisor meeting.

Santa Cruz County RTC to Assess Purpose, Needs of Passenger Rail Project

01/30/2024

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission will kick off its first meeting of 2024 by delving into one of its most high-profile projects.

Capitola City Council to Review Rail Trail, Policing Committee

10/24/2023

The council will receive a report on Rail Trail Segments 10 and 11 as well as an update on the years-long effort to form the Police Chief’s Advisory Committee.

Concept Report Studying Zero Emission Rail in Santa Cruz County Fully Funded

08/15/2023

The concept report will provide an early analysis that includes placement of stations, frequency of service and a closer look at especially challenging areas such as Beach Street in Santa Cruz and near Harkins Slough in Watsonville.

Leaders Spar Over Rail Trail Segments at RTC Meeting

05/05/2023

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission was presented with a final EIR created by the city of Santa Cruz for segments 8 and 9 of the Coastal Rail Trail—a project seeking to establish a bicycle and pedestrian trail adjacent to the tracks along the 32-mile Branch Rail Corridor.

SCCRTC Estimates Millions in Damages From Storms

01/31/2023

Initial assessments are still under way, but as of Jan. 23, clean-up and repair work on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line could be as high as $3 million.

With $115 Million in Funding, 7 Miles of Coastal Rail Trail to Break Ground

12/07/2022

A $115 million grant from the California Transportation Commission’s Active Transportation Program covers the funding gap for nearly 7 miles of the Coastal Rail Trail. Construction can begin as soon as 2025.

RTC Considers Costs on Coastal Rail Trail

10/03/2022

At its Oct. 6 meeting, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission will analyze costs and funding strategies for continued construction and maintenance on 32-mile Coastal Rail Trail.

Draft Impact Report Released for Two Coastal Rail Trail Segments

09/27/2022

Through Nov. 4, the public can review and comment on a Draft Environmental Impact Report for two more segments of the Coastal Rail Trail. Segments 8 and 9 stretch from Beach Street/Pacific Avenue in the city of Santa Cruz to the eastern side of 17th Avenue in Live Oak.

Capitola Home Next to Branch Rail Line Gets Green Light

09/26/2022

Redevelopment of a Capitola home will move forward after the Capitola City Council approved the design permit and an appeal from the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission was withdrawn after the property owner modified the design with its concerns in mind.

Next Phase of Coastal Rail Trail Construction Begins in July

06/30/2022

The city of Santa Cruz will start construction on the second phase of Segment 7 of the multiuse Coast Rail Trail. According to transportation planner Claire Gallogly, the project will add “a great option for those of all ages and abilities to travel without a car.”

Measure D Cheat Sheet

06/01/2022

Leaders of both Yes Greenway and No Way Greenway provided Lookout Santa Cruz with detailed answers to a range of questions on core issues in the rail-trail debate.

Meet No Way Greenway’s Mark Mesiti-Miller and Melani Clark

05/29/2022

Civic leader Mark Mesiti-Miller and Roaring Camp president Melani Clark are working to defeat Measure D. Who are they, and what led to their high-profile involvement?

Who Is Bud Colligan?

05/28/2022

The leader of the Measure D campaign is a philanthropist on big projects in housing, health care, science, education and the arts. As point man for a trail-only option on Santa Cruz County’s coastal rail corridor, he’s also a lightning rod in one of the most polarizing votes in memory.

Measure D: Who’s Funding Each Campaign

05/26/2022

Measure D—the rail-trail dispute—isn’t only the most contentious issue to come before Santa Cruz County voters in a while. It’s also become one of the most expensive—with almost $800,000 raised through May 21.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown Voices Opposition to Measure D

05/24/2022

With the June 7 election around the corner, former California Gov. Jerry Brown has weighed in on the Measure D Greenway Initiative in Santa Cruz County.

Manu Koenig: “Get Your Head Straight on Measure D”

05/21/2022

Measure D is giving us all a headache. Part of the problem is perspective, 1st District Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig writes. Our views are shaped by where we live.

No on Measure D: Don’t Rip Up Our Tracks

05/18/2022

Peggy Dolgenos of Cruzio writes that her walk from downtown to the Westside recently improved. “I get to walk on the newly built rail trail! Lots of people use the trail, biking, walking, in wheelchairs, pushing strollers. And next to the trail, there’s room for a train. I hope to ride that train someday.”

Yes on Measure D—Let’s Build a Trail Now

05/18/2022

Four Measure D proponents write in Lookout Santa Cruz’s Community Voices section: “Those against Measure D say they started the work to acquire the corridor and build a trail in 1987—35 years ago!”

Why the Rail Trail Issue Has Divided Santa Cruz County Residents

05/15/2022

What’s wrong with the rail trail debate is what’s wrong with American democracy in 2022, Wallace Baine writes. Why isn’t “Maybe,” or “It’s Complicated,” or “This Is Not My Field,” or “Whatever, Dude” one of the answers to a profound question of how we live our lives, recreate and commute in Santa Cruz County?

Ecology Action Supports Public Planning; Opposes Measure D

05/15/2022

Elaborating on its opposition to Measure D, Ecology Action explains that public planning processes aim to include diverse voices in local decision-making, whereas voter referendums sidestep planning and minimize a complex issue into a simple “yes” or “no” vote.

We Are Already on the Right Track: No on Measure D

05/15/2022

The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has supported the Rail Trail project since 2015. A piece on the group’s stance on Measure D explains, “Another long public planning and vetting process would be repeated with the passage of the 2022 Measure D, further delaying the trail’s completion.”

Measure D: A Lose-Lose Proposition for Us All

05/14/2022

Writing for Lookout Santa Cruz’s Community Voices, 3rd District Supervisor Ryan Coonerty says the intensity of debate around Measure D is pointless given one stark political reality: No matter how the vote goes, without compromises, Santa Cruz County won’t build anything for decades.

Mark Mesiti-Miller: Vote No on Measure D Greenway Initiative

05/09/2022

Up and down Santa Cruz County and across the political spectrum, organizations and elected officials are taking a stand against the measure.

Vote Yes on Measure D to Get the County Moving

05/09/2022

The Greenway plan to build a 32-mile trail, accessible to all, is fully funded and can be built now. The trail will preserve the natural landscape and showcase the beauty of our coastline.

Curiosities: Returning Commuter Service to the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line

05/07/2022

Local train history blog SantaCruzTrains.com provides a fascinating and detailed history of commuter and excursion train service in the county, ending with their take on upcoming Measure D.

RTC Declines to State Coast Rail Trail Preferences

05/05/2022

After a presentation from RTC staff and an extended period of public comment, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Committee voted to adopt an “alternative” programming resolution that stated no preference for either of the two possible Highway 1 and Coast Rail Trail project scenarios.

Santa Cruz Co. Measure D on June Will Eliminate Rail Forever

05/01/2022

The editor of CalRail News, the publication of the California Train Riders Association, comes out swinging in opposition of Measure D.

YES Greenway Files Police Report for Defaced Campaign Signs

04/18/2022

Tensions between the two groups—one for a pedestrian greenway, with the other for rail and trail—heated up when YES Greenway accused its opponents of vandalism. No Way Greenway says there is no proof and it’s the group’s latest “dirty trick.”

Rail Trail Virtual Open House Set for March 31

03/23/2022

Members of the public are invited to a Zoom presentation on Coastal Rail Trail Segments 8 and 9, which will extend along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line corridor, from Beach Street/Pacific Avenue to the east side of 17th Avenue.

The Return of the Suntan Special?

02/28/2022

Bill Buchanan, writing on SF Gate, speculates on whether leaving rail in place on the Santa Cruz Branch Line might allow for the return of the train that ran from San Francisco to Santa Cruz from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Supervisor Koenig on the Rail Trail

01/31/2022

In this newsletter, Supervisor Koenig addresses community concerns around the issue of freight on the Santa Cruz Branch Line.

RTC Director Withholds Support for Electric Rail Proposal

11/04/2021

Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission Director Guy Preston has recommended that the agency not pursue a partnership with a company that wants to provide electric passenger rail service from Capitola to Santa Cruz.

Electric Light Rail Rolls in Watsonville This Weekend

10/14/2021

This weekend, members of Coast Futura are working with Roaring Camp Railroads to give people the chance to ride on a clean-energy, accessible streetcar—a demonstration of how travel between Watsonville and Davenport could be in the future.

RTC Takes a Break From Rail Talk

05/06/2021

Hearing calls from fellow commissioners to take a “timeout,” a push to reconsider the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission’s recent split vote on the passenger rail line business plan was shelved.

SCCRTC Votes To Explore Rail Options

02/03/2021

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission voted 9-3 for staff to explore a business plan for a train or light rail service along the 32 mile rail trail.

Icon of Bicycle Icon of Public Park Icon of School Icon of Train Icon of Pedestrian

Santa Cruz Rail Trail

A map of the 20 individual segments of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail, also known as the Santa Cruz Rail Trail, which traverses the length of Santa Cruz County from Davenport to Watsonville.

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