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 Line. These rail lines ensure there is a rail connection for Santa Cruz County and the rest of California, which may be critical in providing an essential route to the San Lorenzo Valley and other areas during future fire emergencies related to climate change, severe drought and catastrophic wildfires.
New technologies and innovative solutions to climate-driven emergencies are in development in California and beyond. For example, fire trains are beginning to see use to help fight major wildfires. This was the case in Northern California during the 2021 Dixie Fire. Fire trains use water and retardant, hauled by rail in tanker cars. The trains also include firefighting professionals who battle wildfires from the train, helping to protect watersheds and critical infrastructure.
Freight use abandonment of either rail line will lead to railbanking, which would result in tearing out the tracks, thus eliminating a potentially critical tool in the years ahead as we learn to adapt to the new realities of climate change.
As you may be aware, there are areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains that are only accessed via the rail line, such as within Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and the Pogonip open space area.
Coupled with new technologies, such as fire trains that are under study in California, is major new funding for wildfire prevention and protection that is being developed by both the state and federal governments. It is important for Santa Cruz County to maximize options for future resources and to not get left behind in funding and policy decisions that could potentially benefit our region.
We urge you to maintain the Felton Branch Rail Line and the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line as critical infrastructure for our community.
Robert Gray, Fire Chief, Felton Fire District
Dan Walters, Fire Chief, Zayante Fire District
Stacie Brownlee, Fire Chief, Ben Lomond Fire District
Mark Bingham, Fire Chief, Boulder Creek Fire District
Jim Anderson, Vice Chair, Felton Fire District
Bob Locatelli, Fire Director, Boulder Creek Fire District
Sam Robustelli, Fire Director, Boulder Creek Fire District
Published by San Lorenzo Valley Post
To read the original article on the SLV Post site click SLV Fire Officials Respond to RTC: Oppose Forced Abandonment of the Felton Branch Line.
Last week during the January RTC meeting, it became clear that the rumors we had heard about the RTC seeking “adverse abandonment” were true. Adverse abandonment means that the one calling for it wants to take away rail rights from users of a rail line.
What surprised us the most was which rail line the RTC was attacking first. The RTC has confirmed that in order to pave the way to abandon and railbank the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, the RTC will be discussing an adverse abandonment of the Felton Branch Rail Line which is wholly owned by Roaring Camp Railroads.
Why is the RTC making such hostile moves?
The RTC staff has released a statement claiming they are making this move in order to save money on rail bridges and that Roaring Camp will still be able to operate if their branch line were abandoned. This is an inaccurate analysis and a mischaracterization of what this adverse action will actually do to our community as a whole and Roaring Camp in particular. Roaring Camp is rightly outraged at this attack (you can read their response here) as are we.
We firmly oppose abandoning our rail lines.
In the end, it is always better to invest in infrastructure for our future. Our mission is to advocate for both electric passenger rail and the 32 mile rail trail in the existing active freight corridor. Keeping our rail lines in the national system allows for stronger infrastructure for all uses, including emergency evacuations. Building load-limited bridges is not in our best interest.
We Do Not Support Abandonment
At the end of the day, we are a community, we need to come together not just to build the right systems and infrastructure that serve everyone, but also to support our local industries. Businesses like Roaring Camp are the heart of Santa Cruz County.
Please write to the RTC commissioners and let them know you do not support abandonment of either the FELTON or SANTA CRUZ BRANCH LINE. Furthermore, please mention the importance of keeping our lines to freight standard. We want electric passenger service that’s quiet and seamless in our community, but we also want bridges that are capable of supporting firefighting trains and any other needed services for our community now and in the future.
We want to build a resilient and multipurpose transportation system. We are horrified that some on the RTC have turned to threatening actions against a longstanding community business. We need the RTC to take a leading role in building a transportation system for the future, including ensuring we have the ability to protect and serve everyone.
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Friends of the Rail & Trail is a grassroots transportation advocacy organization.