Last Updated: 9/5/2022
In 2002, a small group of citizen activists recognized the potential for the Santa Cruz Branch Rail line, which runs from Davenport to Pajaro Junction in Watsonville, to be the foundation of a new transportation project capable of changing the way that Santa Cruz County moves. The vision was for a light rail service along the coast from Watsonville to Santa Cruz, combined with a 32-mile bike and pedestrian trail from Watsonville to Davenport. This project would be a game changer, especially if it were integrated with bike, pedestrian, and bus connections. It would open up easy car-optional cross-county transportation for residents and visitors of all ages, abilities, and income levels.
Friends of the Rail & Trail Founded
Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail & Trail was established as a nonprofit in 2002. Funded by the local community and powered by hundreds of ordinary citizen volunteers, we have embraced the mission of seeing the combined rail and trail project come to life. In 2012 the project achieved a huge milestone when the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission purchased the rail corridor.
Over the years the Rail & Trail project has gone through all the required public process of planning, studies, and community input. All of the studies used the metrics of Equity, the Environment, and Economics, and all have continued to find that the best use of the rail corridor is a trail in combination with transit. The more recent studies have concluded that the transit type should be electric passenger rail.
In 2014, several mid-county residents formed a series of groups under different names, with the goal of removing the railroad tracks and stopping rail transit. Despite this, the project continues to enjoy strong county-wide support.
1Unified Corridor Investment Study and Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis
Scroll down to see a timeline of everything that's happened so far with the Rail & Trail project!
1987 - METRO initiates fixed-guideway studies including Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line (SCBRL), as well as a "Corridor Refinement Study” of the SCBRL.
1990 - CA Proposition 116 - Rail Bonds. Passes statewide with 60% approval in Santa Cruz County allocating $11M for Santa Cruz passenger rail.
1995-99 - Major Transportation Investment Study (MTIS) - the second major study of passenger rail transit on the SCBRL
1996 - Three Passenger Rail Demonstration Events
Return of the SunTan Special, the Coast Cruzer, and the First Night Trolley.
1998 - People Power starts advocating for the Rail Trail.
2001 - $21M of State Funding appropriated for purchase of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line:
• $11M from Proposition 116 Rail Bonds (1990).
• $10M from the 2000 State Transportation Improvement Program (state and federal gas taxes.)
2002 - Friends of the Rail & Trail established as part of People Power
FORT advocates to the RTC to apply for Proposition 116 funds to purchase the rail line, with the goal of improving mobility options in Santa Cruz County by providing a public trail for active transportation alongside future passenger rail service,
2002 - RTC changes its enabling legislation to accommodate SCBRL ownership and passenger rail development.
2006 - Rail+Trail Symposium
Friends of the Rail & Trail and People Power host over 200 participants at a symposium on Rail and Trail with experts from around the US in Dec. 2006 at Jade St. Park.
2008 - FORT letter writing campaign advocating for the RTC commissioners to vote in favor of acquiring the rail line.
2009 - RTC decides to move forward with the effort to acquire the rail corridor. FORT leads the campaign to get the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to approve a grant from Prop. 116 funds to help purchase the line.
June 2010 - California Transportation Commission approves Proposition 116 grant application for RTC's acquisition of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line at the June 2010 session in Sacramento, facilitated by Assemblymember Mark Stone and attended by 30-40 people from FORT and other proponents.
2012 - Santa Cruz County RTC acquires the SCBRL from Union Pacific for $14.2M
• Escrow closes on Oct. 12 placing title of the 32-mile SCBRL into public ownership.
• Purchase came with the public commitment to facilitate passenger and freight service, as well as creating a multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trail.
2014 - Rail Trail Plan and Environmental Impact Report finished
• Formally known as the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Master Plan (MBSST)
• The MBSST explains and illustrates the key details needed to construct the Rail Trail adjacent to the existing 32 mile rail line from Davenport to Watsonville
• MBSST approved by every government entity with jurisdiction including the Transportation Commission, the County, the Coastal Commission, and the cities of Watsonville, Capitola and Santa Cruz
• A key objective included in the MBSST is Policy 1.2.4 - "Develop trails in such a way so that future rail transit services along the corridor are not precluded."
2014 - ‘Aptos Rail-Trail Investor Group’ formed
Requests the RTC allow them to purchase the rail corridor to demolish the rail infrastructure in favor of a trail-only plan. https://www.sccrtc.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/2014-09-04-rtc-handouts.pdf
2014 - City of Watsonville City Council
Unanimously adopts a resolution of support for the MBSST Rail Trail Master Plan and preservation of the rail for sustainable long-range transportation.
2015 - City of Santa Cruz City Council
Unanimously adopts a resolution of support for the Rail Trail Master Plan and preservation of the rail option for sustainable long-range transportation planning.
2015 - RTC completes Rail Transit Feasibility Study
Study provides a high level conceptual analysis of several future passenger rail transit scenarios and road map laying out next steps needed for implementation of rail service.
2016 - Measure D Passes
• A super majority of Santa Cruz County voters pass a 30 year, half cent sales tax measure to fund transportation improvements.
• The measure allocated 25% of all funds raised to be used on Rail & Trail projects (8% Rail and 17% Trail) It is expected to generate approximately $700M total over the 30 years with $56M for rail and $119M for trail.
2016 - the ‘Great Santa Cruz Trail Study Group’ formed
• The GSCTSG is funded by wealthy anti-transit activists in Santa Cruz County.
• Their goal is to promote the idea of removing the tracks in favor of a super wide 3 lane trail with a separate lane for powered vehicles.
The GSCTSG publishes "Great Santa Cruz Trail 2016”
Marketing piece promoting the advantages of "trail-only" use of the rail corridor. Fails to include any information on funding or environmental impacts.
2016 - RTC Staff Report on Options for Use of the Rail Corridor
Analyzes step-by-step process, approximate costs and general timeline for three possible uses of the rail corridor:
• Rail with Trail
• Bus Rapid Transit
Finds that the trail-only concept would incur large unknown costs and long delays to redo the EIR and Master Plan for the trail.
2017 - ‘Great Santa Cruz Trail’ renames itself and incorporates as ‘Greenway’
Small but influential group of wealthy interests continues to promote a concept for demolishing the tracks and removing public transit from the rail corridor.
2019 - Unified Corridor Investment Study (UCIS)
The RTC completes a multi-year study to select transportation investments that will make the best use of Highway 1, Soquel Avenue/Soquel Drive/ Freedom Boulevard, and the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. The study’s goals focus on developing a sustainable and well-integrated transportation system while maximizing benefits in terms of efficient mobility, health and equity, the natural environment, and economic vitality.
2019 - UCIS Evaluates 4 Scenarios for rail corridor:
• Trail Only
• Passenger Rail with Trail
• Bus Rapid Transit on Corridor with Trail & Freight Rail limited to Watsonville
• Passenger & Freight Rail with Trail
2019 - UCIS Results
The UCIS recommended that the preferred scenario for the rail corridor include the bike and pedestrian trail, high-capacity public transit service, and maintaining freight rail service. The Trail-Only scenario scored poorly on most measures and was rejected.
December 2020 - Westside Rail Trail Opens!
July 2021 - Watsonville Rail Trail Opens!
2021 - Transit Corridor Alternative Analysis (TCAA)
Following the UCIS recommendation for some kind of high-capacity public transit on the rail corridor, this study was designed to assess all public transit options for the rail right-of-way using the metrics of Equity, Environment, and Economy.
The study used a performance measure analysis as well as gathering public input from RTC advisory committees, partner agencies, community organizations, stakeholders, and members of the public.
• 18 different transit technology platforms were compared in the first round. After the initial review of 18, in Milestone 2 the study focused on the four best-performing alternatives:
• Electric Light Rail Transit
• Electric Commuter Rail Transit
• Bus Rapid Transit on Corridor
• Autonomous Road Train
2021 - TCAA Outcome is Rail Transit
The TCAA final recommendation chose Electric Passenger Rail as the Locally Preferred Alternative. Because rail technology is changing rapidly with more vehicle types coming on the market yearly, the TCAA recommended choosing a specific vehicle in the next planning stage.
April 2021 - Draft Business Plan Finished
After acceptance of the TCAA, the next step was the development of a 25-year strategic business plan to serve as a guiding document for funding and implementation of the Locally Preferred Alternative. At the April RTC meeting the RTC staff presented the draft Business Plan for electric passenger rail on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line (SCBRL) and received public input.
April 2021 - RTC Deadlocked Vote on the Draft Business Plan
• The RTC motion to accept the business plan and seek funding for an environmental document failed on a 6-6 vote, freezing progress on rail planning.
• The RTC commissioners who voted against accepting the business plan were Koenig (former Executive Director of Greenway) Bertrand, Johnson, McPherson, Petersen, and Alternate Mulhearn.
2021 - Coast Futura Demonstration
• In October, a clean clean, quiet, zero-emission streetcar manufactured in CA by Tig-M provided hourly service on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line in Watsonville and in Santa Cruz.
• The demonstration included 2100 riders, 433 miles traveled, and over 120 volunteers.
• Sponsors include The City of Santa Cruz, Roaring Camp, Central Coast Community Energy, Lookout Santa Cruz, and Graniterock.
2022 - Greenway Ballot Initiative
Greenway funded a deceptive local ballot measure to override our public process and create a trail-only plan. 2022 Measure D "Greenway" pretended to preserve rail for the future and speed trail progress but actually would have stripped all rail transit language from the County’s 20 Year General Plan for the rail corridor and delayed new trail construction progress for 8 or more years to redo EIR studies and seek new funding sources.
2022 - Defeated Measure D ballot initiative
In June, voters choose to vote against Measure D, leading to a landslide victory for rail & trail in Santa Cruz County
2022 - RTC Approves Electric Rail
On August 4th 2022, thanks to your support the RTC voted to move forward with the next step to bringing rail service to Santa Cruz County.
TRANSDEF: County Analysis Fails to Address Greenway Harms
The Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, known as TRANSDEF, is a non-profit environmental organization created by transit activists to advocate for better solutions to transportation, land use and air quality problems in the San Francisco Bay Area. TRANSDEF promotes cost-effective transit, Smart Growth, and market-based pricing as fiscally and environmentally preferable responses to traffic congestion. These strategies represent a major departure from the prevailing policy climate of suburban sprawl, ever-widening highways and overwhelming dependence on the private automobile. TRANSDEF is especially focused on transportation solutions that reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
TRANSDEF read the County Staff report analyzing the Greenway ballot measure and found it to be woefully inadequate. Here is their letter to the Board of Supervisors pointing out the flaws and omissions in the staff report, and the serious unrecognized harms that the Greenway ballot initiative would cause for Santa Cruz County.
Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund
P.O. Box 151439 San Rafael, CA 94915 415-331-1982
Manu Koenig, Chair
Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors
701 Ocean Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Re: Election Code 9111 Report Regarding
the Santa Cruz County Greenway Initiative
Dear Chair Koenig,
TRANSDEF, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, is an environmental non-profit focused on reducing the growth in Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT), as the strategy needed to counter the dual challenges of rising GHG emissions from transportation and congested highways. For the past 26 years, we have advocated for public transit and the land use patterns that support transit.
We have reviewed the Election Code 9111 Report Regarding the Santa Cruz County Greenway Initiative (the Report) and find it inadequate in evaluating the impacts of the Greenway Initiative (the Initiative) on the policies of the Santa Cruz County General Plan (the Plan) and the Sustainable Santa Cruz County Plan. In short, we find the Report failed to identify how the Initiative would interfere with the County's efforts to address its highway congestion and housing shortage. In particular, it is shocking that the Report failed to evaluate a transportation initiative's consistency with the Plan's Circulation Element. We request you ask Staff to revise the report to specifically address the following findings:
Consistency with the General Plan
1. The Report fails to acknowledge that the Initiative is fundamentally inconsistent with the General Plan Circulation Element. "The Transportation System Management (TSM) section is the cornerstone of the Circulation Element and Transportation Planning in general." (p. 3-3 of the Plan.)
The Transportation System Management section states:
The Initiative would block the only non-highway high-capacity transit mode available to the County "to reduce automobile trips and congestion." It would also block commuter rail's ability to reduce the impact of weekend beach traffic.
2. The Transportation System Goals include:
The Initiative would reduce mode choice and force more Santa Cruz residents to travel in automobiles. TRANSDEF is unaware of any County documents that demonstrate that the proposed Greenway would attract user volumes equivalent to projected commuter rail ridership, as an alternative to driving.
3. The Report should have indicated that the Initiative will interfere with Plan Objective 3.1: "To limit the increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) to achieve as a minimum, compliance with the current Air Quality Management Plan." The Initiative would eliminate the County's only available non-highway high-capacity transit mode option.
4. The Report's evaluation of "Limitations on County Actions Related to Housing" was superficial and conclusory. It focused on land use law, rather than on the fundamental connection between transportation and land use. Higher land use densities are practical if served by rail, because less physical space is taken up by parking and the economic burden of providing parking is lessened.
Envision Utah was a community consensus-building project in a fast-growing area of a conservative state, which had severe geographic constraints preventing further sprawl. The community came to agreement on growing up, not out. Higher density housing would be built, served by a rail network. "Since 2010, over 40 percent of new multifamily housing units have been built within walking distance of a rail station. That means reduced household costs, air emissions, traffic, infrastructure costs, and land consumption." https://envisionutah.org/about
The Report fails to discuss the impact of the Initiative on the County's potential for transit-oriented development, a fundamental strategy for affordable housing, stating only that:
5. The discussion in Point #4 strongly suggests that this Report conclusion is incorrect:
6. The Report should have indicated that the Initiative would interfere with Plan Policy 3.1.1: "Land Use Patterns (Jobs/Housing Balance):
The Initiative would prevent the implementation of this Policy by blocking commuter rail.
7. The Report's conclusion on business retention appears to be deliberately misleading:
Common sense (rather than a detailed analysis) is all that is needed to know that a county with a constantly congested main artery is not attractive to business. It should be obvious that a county investing in commuter rail will be seen by business as more attractive than one investing in a trail.
8. The Report's conclusion regarding the availability of freight service on business retention is similarly misleading:
The temporary unavailability of freight service is not a legitimate reason to not consider the value of rail freight to business. Again, common sense indicates that some businesses would find the availability of freight service attractive.
9. The Report discusses trail and trail with rail as mere amenities, thereby entirely failing to acknowledge the significance of commuter rail to the mobility of the County's residents, who otherwise are stuck in gridlock.
As discussed above, commuter rail would be much more supportive of development and affordable housing. That is not a speculation.
10. The Report's finding on congestion is accurate, but not consistent with the rest of the Report:
11. The Report is in error when it states "Although passenger rail transit is not funded or planned for the SCBRL at this time, it is possible that the construction of an interim trail on the railroad track alignment would postpone implementation of passenger rail transit on the SCBRL." (p. 7 of the Report.) Passenger rail is planned, and it is certain that an interim trail would postpone implementation of passenger rail.
Consistency with the Sustainable Santa Cruz County Plan
TRANSDEF was unable to locate a non-password-protected copy of this Plan. This odd practice of securing a governmentally adopted Plan that should have been publicly available prevented us from analyzing the Initiative's consistency with it.
Consistency with the Draft Update to the General Plan
The Report made no attempt to evaluate the consistency of the Initiative with the draft Access + Mobility Element (the Element) of the Draft General Plan Update. It is clear that high-capacity transit is needed to meet the dual challenges of highway congestion and excessive GHG emissions identified in the Element. It should be equally clear that the Initiative's emphasis on personal transport is quantitatively inadequate to face these challenges. VMT reduction and the transportation-land use connection are stressed in this Element even more strongly than in the current Plan:
Points #1 - #4 above apply even more to the Element than to the current Plan. While the Initiative purports to offer recreational and commuting opportunities, there is no basis upon which to conclude that the proposed trail would meet the County's needs, as identified in the Element.
Misleading Language in the Initiative Itself
Finally, the Report fails to call out the Initiative's misleading use of the word "interim." In the world of rail trails, it is extremely rare for a railbanked line to ever be put back into rail use. Once a line is railbanked, the national experience is that, for all practical purposes, it is forever lost to rail. While the Report should have clarified that fact for voters, all it says is "…there is no time frame given or definition of “interim” within the Initiative on when that future system might occur or how long the “interim” use would remain in place." (p. 5 of the Report.)
TRANSDEF requests the Board to have staff revise the Report, so as to present the voters with an accurate evaluation of the impacts of the Initiative, including its inconsistency with existing plans. Thank you for considering these comments.
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Friends of the Rail & Trail is a grassroots transportation advocacy organization.