The Coastal Rail Trail is the result of a 20-year long effort to purchase the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) in the early 1990’s. On May 6, 2010, the RTC decided to purchase 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 the title of the branch line into public ownership with the commitment of facilitating passenger and freight service, as well as creating the multi-use Coastal Rail Trail.
The 32-mile Coastal Rail Trail has been estimated to cost $121 million and will be constructed in sections, as funds become available. The cost estimate includes design, engineering, environmental permitting, and construction of all twenty segments, including new at-grade crossings, bridge structures and amenities such as fencing, way-finding signs, etc.
Championed by Congressman Sam Farr, the complete Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network aims to foster an 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 the Santa Cruz County portion of the two-county project with the Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC) responsible for 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 transit operations allowing maximum use of this valuable asset by everyone regardless of ability. The Rail Trail 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 that they support public ownership of the coastal rail line for the purpose of a rail trail and future passenger rail service. Voter approval of Prop 116 in Santa Cruz County showed we were willing to pay for public ownership of the rail corridor. In 2016, County voters again demonstrated their support by passing Measure D which included an allocation of $125 million for building the trail and preserving the rail.
In 2007, the RTC commissioned a survey that found rail service to be the 2nd most popular use of transit funds (following pothole repairs). Our neighbors at the Transportation Agency of Monterey County found the cost per passenger mile (ppm) for rail service was actually less than the cost ppm for bus service.