The Coastal Rail Trail is the result of a 20-year long effort to purchase the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, which was first established in 1876. In the early 1990s, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) began efforts to purchase the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line right-of-way. Originally owned by Southern Pacific, the property was sold to Union Pacific in 1996. In 2001, the RTC began negotiations with then-owner Union Pacific. On May 6, 2010 the RTC decided to purchase 31 miles of the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line from Union Pacific for $14.2 million, with $11 million coming from the California voter-approved Proposition 116. On January 19, 2011 the RTC secured approval and funding from the California Transportation Commission for the purchase of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. On October 12, 2012, the RTC successfully closed escrow, placing title of the branch line into public ownership with the commitment of facilitating passenger and freight service, as well as creating a multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trail.
The completed project is estimated to cost $127 million and will be constructed in segments, as funds are available. The cost estimate includes design, engineering, environmental permitting, and construction of all twenty segments, including a sizable number of new at-grade crossings, bridge structures and essential amenities (such as fencing, way-finding signs, etc.). Cost estimates do not include ongoing trail management and maintenance.
Championed by Congressman Sam Farr, the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network aims to foster appreciation for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary from Lover’s Point in Monterey County to the Santa Cruz/San Mateo County line. The RTC is responsible for implementing Santa Cruz County’s portion of the two-county project with the Transportation Agency for Monterey County responsible for implementing the Monterey County portion.
The Santa Cruz Branch Line, extending from Davenport to Watsonville provides an unprecedented opportunity for new bicycle and pedestrian facilities that will co-exist and be coordinated with rail operations. Approximately 50% of the county’s population, as well as 92 parks and 44 schools, are located within 1 mile of the rail corridor. The project will also be an important component of the 1,300-mile California Coastal Trail.
Rail With Trail
Santa Cruz County voters have made it clear on several occasions that they support public ownership of the coastal rail line for the purpose of a rail trail and passenger rail service. Voter approval of Prop 116 in Santa Cruz County showed we were willing to pay for public ownership, ultimately banking approximately $11 million in local tax dollars since 1990. In 2007, the RTC commissioned a survey that found rail service to be the 2nd most popular use of transit funds (following pothole repairs).
The Transportation Agency of Monterey County (TAMC) found that the cost per passenger mile (ppm) for rail service was actually less than the cost ppm for bus service.