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The Santa Cruz Rail Trail

Updated information and discussions about the fate of the Santa Cruz Branch Line, including news and Explainers about the rail-and-trail plan, and the Greenway proposal to eliminate the rail element.

BY CALIFORNIA LOCAL STAFF   •   PUBLISHED FEB 10, 2022 12:00 A.M.
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. Courtesy SCCRTC   Public

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 will effectively decide whether to continue pursuing rail service via a ballot initiative on June 7, 2022. The Greenway Initiative removes all mention of rail planning with regards to the Santa Cruz Branch Line from the county's General Plan, and calls for a wider trail to be built.

The initiative calls for “preserving the option for future rail use through railbanking, a federal program that allows an existing rail corridor to be used as a trail and leaves certain infrastructure, including bridges and trestles.” Opponents point out that it does not call for preserving the railroad track itself, and that once that track is removed, it is unlikely to be replaced.

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

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.

If you see any missing relevant information about the Santa Cruz Rail Trail, or errors, let us know using the Keep It Fresh form on the right.

California Local Pin Marker Latest Explainers, Etc

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: 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.


California Media Alliance logo From Our Media Allies

Good Times logo
What Both Sides are Saying About Measure D
Supporters and opponents explain their positions on the controversial ballot measure
Good Times logo
Who Really Controls Railbanking?
Whether Measure D passes or fails, here are all the parties who really control the railbanking decision.
Good Times logo
What Does Measure D Really Say?
There’s a lot of speculation about the ballot measure, but here’s what it would really do.

California Local Pin Marker Latest Digest

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: All aboard.
Annals of Democracy: Trains

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

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 plans detailed

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


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.


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.


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 …


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 …


Good Times logo
ARCHIVED
Letter to the Editor: Trains and Irony

A letter to the editor of Good Times.

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

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.”

(May 19, 2022) → Read this guest commentary on the Santa Cruz Works website
Why the Rail Trail Issue Has Divided Santa Cruz County Residents

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?

(May 16, 2022) → Read the full Lookout Local report
Ecology Action Supports Public Planning; Opposes Measure D

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.

(May 16, 2022) → Read more on the Ecology Action website
We Are Already on the Right Track: No on Measure D

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.”

(May 16, 2022) → Read the full endorsement on the Land Trust website
Curiosities: Returning Commuter Service to the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line

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.

(May 8, 2022) → Read the full SantaCruzTrains.com blog post
RTC Declines to State Coast Rail Trail Preferences

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.

(May 6, 2022) → Read the full Santa Cruz County Sentinel report
Santa Cruz Co. Measure D on June Will Eliminate Rail Forever

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

(May 2, 2022) → CalRail News
YES Greenway Files Police Report for Defaced Campaign Signs

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.”

(April 19, 2022) → Read the full Lookout Local report
Rail Trail Virtual Open House Set for March 31

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.

(March 24, 2022) → Read the full Santa Cruz County Sentinel report
The Return of the Suntan Special?

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.

(March 1, 2022) → SF Gate
Supervisor Koenig on the Rail Trail

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

(Feb. 1, 2022) → Supervisor Manu Koenig's Newsletter
RTC Director Withholds Support for Electric Rail Proposal

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.

(Nov. 5, 2021) → Read the full Good Times report
Electric Light Rail Rolls in Watsonville This Weekend

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.

(Oct. 15, 2021) → Read the full The Pajaronian report
RTC Takes a Break From Rail Talk

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.

(May 7, 2021) → Read the full The Pajaronian report
SCCRTC Votes To Explore Rail Options

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.

(Feb. 4, 2021) → Read the full Santa Cruz Local report
Icon of Bicycle 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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County Board of Supervisors Meeting
Tuesday May 24 2022   9:00 AM

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RTC Meeting
Thursday June 2 2022   9:00 AM

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County Board of Supervisors Meeting
Tuesday June 7 2022   9:00 AM

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Transportation Policy Workshop
Thursday June 16 2022   9:00 AM

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County Board of Supervisors Meeting
Tuesday June 28 2022   9:00 AM

TRACKER

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Governing Bodies

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Santa Cruz Rail Trail Project Timeline

A timeline of past and upcoming milestones as the rail trail project moves forward in segments and phases.