Santa Cruz County Rail & Trail: Let’s Build It!

Rail & Trail Within the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network

Now that the Santa Cruz Branch Line is publicly owned (by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission), students, commuters, and visitors are eager for a rail trail and passenger rail service in the coastal rail corridor.

The proposed Coastal Rail Trail will be a paved, multi-use path set within the 32-mile coastal rail corridor, spanning Santa Cruz County from Davenport to Watsonville and form an important part of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network.  It will provide a scenic, car-free, and convenient path for walking, biking, and wheelchair use — just about any form of active travel by people of all ages. The trail will be adjacent to and separated from train service to maximize sustainable transportation in this corridor.

Who is FORT?

Santa Cruz Friends of the Rail & Trail (FORT) is the community voice for building the 32-mile Coastal Rail Trail. We have advocated for over a decade for public acquisition of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, and now that the purchase is complete, FORT is working to support the timely construction of the trail.  FORT is a community-based group that is fiscally sponsored by Ecology Action, and can accept tax-deductible contributions support our work.

btn_donate_LGSupport the Rail Trail

petition-buttonSign the Santa Cruz County Coastal Rail Trail Petition Today!


A Coastal Rail Trail Will Connect Our Communities

The Coastal Rail Trail will be a public asset that will improve the quality of life for Santa Cruz County residents and visitors alike. The Trail runs within one mile of 42 local schools, 88 parks and 50% of our county’s population, connecting many key destinations. Separate from car traffic and nearly level, the Trail will provide an accessible way for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the Monterey Bay. By giving people a safe, attractive and fun place to walk and bike, we will improve community health, boost our local economy, and enhance our environment. The Coastal Rail Trail will make our county a more sustainable and livable community.

The Coastal Rail Trail: let’s build it!

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Attend the Santa Cruz County Passenger Rail Study

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission invites you to be a collaborative partner in the Santa Cruz County Passenger Rail Study. 

(this posting is a reprint of a notice that you can read on the SCC RTC web site)

RTClogo2The goals of this analysis are to understand whether commuter or intercity passenger rail service is feasible on the newly acquired 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Corridor, how many people rail transit might transport, what it would cost, what types of funding are available, and how it might be phased to meet future demand.

The first workshop will be held:

Thursday, July 17, 6:30 pm

            Live Oak Senior Center

            1777 Capitola Road at 17th Avenue

Served by Metro Bus route 69A or 69W

The workshop will feature an overview of the study and seek your feedback on the following:

  • Goals and Objectives for rail transit in our area
  • Service Scenarios – which route segments, stations and schedules should be selected for detailed ridership and cost analysis

An online survey will also be available for those unable to attend.  The survey link will be sent prior to the workshop.

Public engagement at every stage of the Passenger Rail Study is encouraged.  Questions or comments can be directed to the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). Please check the project website regularly for project updates:

In addition to YOU, the Project Team for the Passenger Rail Service feasibility analysis includes the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway and Caltrans, with funding provided by a competitively awarded  Caltrans Transit Planning grant.

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Run By The Sea, A Coastal Rail Trail Benefit (Aug 24th)

A Unique Run — A Great Cause! Run a 12K in one of the most beautiful places in California while supporting the creation of a rail trail from Santa Cruz north to Davenport, CA. All proceeds for the run will go to organizations like Friends of the Rail & Trail who are working to promote the coastal rail trail! The Run is August 24th. Visit their website for event details and to register. 


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The Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission (RTC) approves Train to Christmas Town for 2014 & 2015

At their June 5th meeting, the RTC approved a passenger rail operating plan for Train to Christmas Town operations out of Watsonville in November and December through 2015. Both this seasonal passenger rail service and freight rail operations are conducted in accordance with the RTC’s operating agreement with the shortline operator, Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay (SC&MB) Railway, which in turn is responsible for maintenance of the tracks and related rail equipment.Thanks to all those who wrote letters of support for this family themed train service.

Trains are public transportation and public transportation helps people of all economic classes, reduced carbon emissions, and takes vehicles off of our very crowded roads. And, the Train to Christmas Town is a lot of fun! Lets show support for a program that is fun for families with children and an important part of bringing passenger rail to Santa Cruz County.

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Urgent: Funding Needed for Watsonville Rail Trail


Watsonville has an opportunity to build another important segment of rail trail, connecting their amazing trail network and giving students better access to the coastal side of Highway 1. The red segment on the map to the right shows a potential rail trail connecting Walker St. with the approved segment that goes to Lee Rd.

Click here for a Google map: Walker Street Rail Trail section

They need our help! Matching funds are required, so we’re starting a campaign to help them get the green. The Campaign Goal is $75,000 for a total of $60k going to Watsonville. Let’s help them get that money and build this trail!

Help us make the Walker Street Rail Trail section a reality by donating today. Click here to make a tax deductible donation that will help kickstart this legacy project.

Thanks to everyone that has helped get us one step closer to our fundraising goal!

In the last two weeks, we have been able to raise $15,000 to support the Walker Street Rail Trail segment! A big thank you to California Giant Berry Farms, Nordic Naturals, Watsonville Coast Produce and FOX who came in as large business sponsors of this effort.

Thank you also to all of the community members who participated in our Specialized bike raffle, which helped raise over $650 for the Walker Street segment. We are excited to announce that Carolyn Hightown was this winner of the Crossroads bike. Thanks to Family Cycling Center for donating the bike.

We are one step closer to our fundraising goal of $75,000. Help us get even closer by making a tax deductible donation today!

More on the Walker Street Rail Trail Section

Take a virtual trip of the segment by viewing the video, below, and imagine how great it will be when Walker St. and Lee Rd. have a rail trail!

Milepost 2 to 3 – leaving Watsonille into surrounding ag lands:

City of Watsonville’s Proposed Walker Street Rail Trail Section

(from the City’s RTC application, December 2013)

 This Rail Trail section would provide a car-free, flat paved path for cyclists and walkers along the existing rail corridor in the southern part of Watsonville.  The 2,400 foot long trail will be built of base rock and have an eight foot wide travel surface and two foot shoulders on each side.  It will extend from the intersection of Walker Street and West Beach Street to a trail along Struve Slough where it will connect to the existing seven mile network of trails along Watsonville’s numerous sloughs.  It will also connect to the Lee Road Rail Trail segment which was recently funded by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission.  When combined, the two trails would create 1.2 miles of continuous trail from the City limits at Lee Road to downtown Watsonville.  The trail would cross Ohlone Parkway and connect pedestrians and bicyclists with 700 homes, Landmark School and the Overlook Shopping Center.  There is potential for a bridge over Struve Slough from Lee Road that would provide a safe bike and walking route for Pajaro Valley High School students. Both Trail sections are part of the recently approved RTC Monterey Bay Scenic Sanctuary Trail Network Master Plan championed by US Congressman Sam Farr and embraced by the community of Santa Cruz County. The RTC is the lead public agency and owner of the Santa Cruz County coastal rail corridor.

The City of Watsonville is being proactive in applying for Federal and State Active Transportation Program funds to design, permit and build this section of the Rail Trail. Individuals and businesses can strengthen Watsonville’s public funding request by donating matching private funds. Matching funds will help the City meet its match obligation and also illustrate to the State and Federal government (the funders) that this project has very strong community support. The City’s Rail Trail application is due by mid May. We are looking to secure some $75,000 in matching funds by this fast approaching deadline. Donations to Friends of the Rail & Trail (FORT) are tax deductible. 80% of your donation will go directly to the City of Watsonville matching contribution and 20% will go to FORT to fund advocacy and outreach to help speed the completion of the Rail Trail.

Key Walker Street Rail Trail Data:

• 2,400 feet long

• Car-free, safe, and flat path for people to bike and walk on

• Project total cost of $750,000 to design, permit and build

• Connects to recently funded Lee Road Rail Trail section and would create a total 1.2 mile Rail Trail path.

• Would serve children, families, students, seniors, disabled, low income, residents and visitors.

• Significant health, economic, community, and environmental benefits

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Award-winning Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Project & Master Plan Moves Forward

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) was honored in April 2014 by the California Department of Parks and Recreation with an award for the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Master Plan. RTC Project Manager Cory Caletti and Mike Sherrod from RRM Design Group accepted the award at the Trails and Greenways Annual Conference in southern California. The award acknowledged the Plan’s outstanding contribution to promoting, enhancing and expanding public awareness and use of bicycle and pedestrian trails in California. The planned Trail Network in Santa Cruz County will provide connections to activity centers, coastal access points and other key destinations for bicycle, pedestrian, wheelchair, and other non-motorized travel. The Master Plan identifies the “rail trail” adjacent to the active 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch rail line right-of-way as the spine of a broader network of 50 miles of trails. The Trail Network is comprised of 20 segments which can be constructed in phases as funding opportunities arise.

While the RTC allocated $5.3M in funding to two rail trail projects last December, additional funding is needed. The City of Watsonville is currently seeking funding from the state’s new Active Transportation Program for another portion of the partially funded segment in the City of Watsonville. A $750,000 application will be submitted for a 2,400 foot long trail that will extend from the intersection of Walker Street and West Beach Street to a trail along Struve Slough. Friends of the Rail and Trail (FORT) is providing assistance to the City of Watsonville by fundraising for private matching funds. To donate and help move the Watsonville segment forward click here. The RTC is also working with federal, state and local sources to assess additional funding opportunities.

The Final Master Plan is available for download here. A limited number of hardcopies of the adopted and revised Final Master Plan and the Final Environmental Impact Report are now available for purchase from the main RTC office. Copies are also available at the Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Aptos, Felton, Scotts Valley, and Watsonville public libraries.

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Accelerating the Rail Trail: We Need Your Help!

Friends of the Rail & Trail (FORT) is working hard in partnership with the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to raise funds to construct segments of the rail trail. The RTC is the owner and managing agency of the rail corridor.

Show your support for this legacy project by contributing match funds to build the trail.  Your support for our staff time to advocate with agencies and engage the public is also critical to gain momentum toward trail construction. 

Our current campaign goal is to raise 10% match for a City of Watsonville grant proposal to construct the Walker Street segment of the Rail Trail.  By selecting “Watsonville Trail Construction” from the list below you can help us raise $75,000 by June 1, 2014 that will match $600,000 in public grant funding to build the trail. Click here to donate now! 

You can also mail your check made payable to:

Ecology Action, Santa Cruz Rail Trail Project
877 Cedar Street Suite 240
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

We think you’ll agree that this project moving forward is better than any gift under the tree.  We  look forward to an exciting 2014 for all Rail Trail supporters!

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Learn More About Rails With Trails

Harbor Drive near San Diego Convention Center

Rail with trails is a successful model in many parts of the United States and the world! In Santa Cruz County, rail with trail will give us the best of both worlds: a world-class rail trail along the Monterey Bay, as well as freight and passenger rail. All of the above, please! It’s important to remember that trains are public transportation that reduce carbon emissions and help people of all economic classes to get around. In Santa Cruz County, the rail line will serve as the backbone of an integrated transportation system and eventually allow us to connect to high-speed rail at Gilroy.

Follow these links for more information about successful rails with trails:

American Trails

Rails to Trails Conservancy




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Rail Trail Top News Story of 2013

The Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Newsmakers of the Year included the Sanctuary Scenic Trail Master plan as one of the big stories of the year.

Reporter Jason Hoppin does a nice job of summarizing the history and future of the rail trail and points out that “…the plan was almost universally lauded when released in October. Using the 32-mile Branch Rail Line as a backbone, the trail will take users from the vistas of the North Coast to the strawberry fields of South County, all while keeping them safely tucked off the county’s buzzing roadways.”

We applaud the Sentinel for their coverage of this important story and we couldn’t agree more!

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RTC Approves Trail Master Plan

By a 9-3 vote, the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) approved the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Master Plan, a trail network that contains the coastal rail trail. Read coverage in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Artist rendering courtesy of SCC Regional Transportation Commission

Local bike and environmental advocates have hailed the decision as a major step forward. The Master Plan provides a vision for the trail network, much of which will coexist with an active rail line. Though rail services are not detailed in this document, it is expected that passenger rail will follow once necessary upgrades are made to the tracks and trestles.

The coastal rail trail is viewed by many as critical infrastructure that will give students, visitors, seniors, and commuters a healthy, scenic way of moving around the County. “The Master Plan offers a well thought out guide to developing the trail network while keeping the active rail line, and that’s a win for everyone” said David Wright, Board Member of Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail & Trail. “The Commissioners have opened the door to local municipalities, like Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and Capitola, to begin planning trail segments.”

Several farmers raised objections to having cyclists and pedestrians, some with pets, travelling past their farms. Others pointed out that animals traverse local farms all the time anyway and that the trail didn’t present any significant change.

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