Updated: Apr 5
In 2022, after the citizens defeated an anti-transit ballot measure calling for ripping out out the tracks, Santa Cruz County moved forward with plans for both the Rail and Trail projects. Electric passenger rail will run next to a multi-purpose trail, side-by-side in the Santa Cruz Branch Line rail corridor. These rail and trail project will revitalize our transportation system, providing a much needed traffic-free corridor that will be an alternative to the 90 minutes of traffic our county experiences on HWY 1.
The Rail & Trail projects will provide an economical way to get to work and reduce traffic. They'll also take a chunk out of Santa Cruz County's greenhouse gas emissions since 60% come from transportation. - Sally Arnold, Board Member, Friends of the Rail & Trail.
About the Coastal Rail Trail
The beautiful and spacious 32-mile-long Santa Cruz County Coastal Rail Trail is being built right now, alongside the existing Santa Cruz Branch Line tracks! Sections of the trail are already finished in Santa Cruz and Watsonville. Many more are currently under construction, funded, or in the design process.
To enjoy some of the completed sections of the Santa Cruz County Coastal Rail Trail, visit the Westside of Santa Cruz between Bay Street and Natural Bridges Drive, or in Watsonville see the trail off of Ohlone Parkway near Beach Street.
The Finished Trail Will Transform the County
The complete Rail Trail will span approximately 32 miles, running along the coast from Davenport through Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Capitola, Aptos, Seacliff, La Selva, and Watsonville, all the way to Pajaro. The rail corridor is within a mile of 92 parks, 44 schools and half the county’s population. In addition to the 32-mile Rail Trail spine, the award-winning Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Master Plan includes 18 miles of spur trails connecting the Rail Trail with other destinations.
Santa Cruz City Resident Meghan Arnold says, “This new trail will unlock so much potential in being able to explore Santa Cruz County safely by bicycle. Coming from the near Westside, I can't wait to check out the parks and businesses in Capitola, Soquel and Aptos without having to time it with traffic.”
The Rail Trail will be dramatically shorter and safer than the existing on-street bike and pedestrian infrastructure. This will be a huge improvement for active transportation in Santa Cruz County.
“I am looking forward to the completion of segments eight through eleven [Santa Cruz to Capitola] so that I can have a worry free and beautiful bike commute. I currently commute along Soquel Drive into Santa Cruz, which can be a little hair-raising in traffic. I’m also looking forward to having easy access to a long, safe, bike ride I can take with my kids.” -Santa Cruz County Resident, Randa Johnson
For current news and updates on individual segments of the trail, see our continuously-updated Trail Construction blog post.
Bringing Electric Passenger Rail to Santa Cruz County
Santa Cruz County is planning zero-emission passenger rail service! Regular service is planned from Natural Bridges Drive in Santa Cruz to Pajaro Junction just across the river from downtown Watsonville. It will give County residents and visitors a fast and reliable transportation option with stops in Watsonville, Aptos, Capitola, and Santa Cruz. The planned new transit hub at Pajaro Junction will provide connection to the regional, state and national rail network.
Plans Moving Forward Despite Opposition
Thanks to overwhelming community support, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) voted to move forward with the design and engineering of Electric Rail Transit on December 1st 2022. The approved engineering contract will include professional engineering and environmental services for both our Electric Rail Transit project and the last 16 miles of Rail Trail, kicking off the Rail project and finishing the Trail design. With all 32 miles of the Coastal Rail Trail in design and/or construction mode, this engineering contract represents a clear win for both the Rail and the Trail projects! The first phase of engineering work will produce a Project Concept Report which will clearly define our Electric Rail Transit project. Key design recommendations will be included, like where the stops will be and how many passing sidings can be incorporated.
To be a part of the community engagement to help determine the features of our future passenger rail service, be sure to stay updated with Friends of the Rail & Trail’s email list to get notices for public engagement opportunities.
As congestion and carbon emissions in the county keep growing, accessible, fast and affordable car-free transportation options are a critical unmet need. We are incredibly fortunate to already have the existing publicly-owned Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line available. The line is a multi-million dollar resource that we can leverage to add transit capacity while also reducing traffic in our neighborhoods. Adding Rail Transit will:
Reduce commute times and stress
Expand public transit that seamlessly integrates with all transportation options
Provide safe and reliable alternatives to automobile use
Enhance healthy active transportation modes (walk, bike, skate, etc.)
Make real and sustained reductions in our county's greenhouse gas emissions
Create a more equitable and economically vibrant community
“Not only does the rail line serve our local economy and provide hundreds of jobs, but I’m really excited that it can also bring passenger rail on that very same line,” District 4 County Supervisor Felipe Hernandez said. “Let’s start planning now for a solution that truly includes Watsonville with high-quality passenger rail transit.”
Bringing rail service to the State Cruz Branch Rail Line is a part of the larger vision of the California State Rail Plan. Passengers from Santa Cruz will be able to transfer to Gilroy or Monterey at Pajaro Station, seamlessly linking to the state rail service with connections to San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, LA and San Diego.
Santa Cruz City School Commissioner Kyle Kelley says, “It's a vision of a better future where we bike, walk, and roll around our cities and county. My children deserve a future where they can ride clean electric light rail and not have to be stuck in traffic.”
Learn more about what’s included in planning for electric passenger rail: https://www.railandtrail.org/bignews/wheres-my-stop-planning-the-next-step-for-electric-rail Read more about the benefits of Rail & Trail for Santa Cruz County here: https://coastconnect.org/6-reasons-to-support-zero-emissions-rail-and-the-32-mile-coastal-rail-trail/