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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.

  •   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: 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 …

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San Lorenzo Valley Post logo
Roaring Camp’s Future in Question: Transportation Commission Considers Forced Abandonment
In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state would make more than $2 billion in funding available for rail and transportation projects. This seems like a less-than-ideal time for Santa Cruz County’s Regional Transportation Commission to consider abandoning some …
San Lorenzo Valley Post logo
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 …
Santa Cruz Local logo
Train options push ahead for Santa Cruz County rail corridor
Business plan to detail potential money sources

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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

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

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

The paperwork from both contingents were revealing.

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 …

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
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.

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

A letter to the editor of Good Times.

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

Answers to readers’ questions about Measure D

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 …

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 …

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

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.

RTC Considers Costs on Coastal Rail Trail

Oct. 3, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

Sept. 27, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

Sept. 26, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

June 30, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

June 1, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 29, 2022, 5 p.m.

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?

May 28, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 26, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 24, 2022, 5 p.m.

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”

May 21, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 18, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 18, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 15, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 15, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 15, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 14, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 9, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 9, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 7, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 5, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

May 1, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

April 18, 2022, 5 p.m.

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

March 23, 2022, 5 p.m.

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?

Feb. 28, 2022, 4 p.m.

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

Jan. 31, 2022, 4 p.m.

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

Nov. 4, 2021, 5 p.m.

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

Oct. 14, 2021, 5 p.m.

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

May 6, 2021, 5 p.m.

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

Feb. 3, 2021, 4 p.m.

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.

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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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Santa Cruz Rail Trail Project Timeline

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