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Where Trail Only Advocates are Wrong

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

By Jim Weller

The original published Santa Cruz Sentinel Op-Ed can be found here.

Re: the Oct. 15 op-ed by Craig Wilson.

Craig, now retired, I believe, was our undersheriff until recently. He was a good cop, an exemplary public servant, and an asset to our community. I like him.

However, Craig was all wrong in promoting the propaganda of the Greenway/ Trail Now PAC, now engaged in a proxy contest for election featuring their hired operative Manu Koenig, targeting our 1st District Supervisor John Leopold.

Here’s where they are wrong.

The rail corridor is not a “rail trail.” It is a railroad corridor owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). Parts of it are being improved for trail purposes, according to plan. But it was never meant to be devoted exclusively as a pedestrian/ cyclist trail.

The 2010 price for the rail corridor was $14.2 million. Of that sum, $11 million came from the California Transportation Commission (CTC).

The RTC decided unanimously to proceed with study and development of options for passenger service of some kind, yet to be determined. All of the 13 RTC Board members agree that the corridor will be used for public transit, when and as that becomes possible. Studies show that our population is adequate to support rail transit. Of course, trips anticipated on the rail corridor would never equal more than a fraction of the daily traffic on Highway 1. These two are not comparable. Nonetheless, the number of trips anticipated on a future public transit system would indeed equal a statistically significant fraction of passenger trips on Highway 1.

No one has ever supposed that passenger service on the rail corridor would reduce traffic to and from Silicon Valley via Highway 17.

That’s beyond the purview of the RTC.

Upgrading steel rails, ties, and crossings is standard practice, and these costs are relatively minor, by comparison with all costs involved in construction.

Multiple stations are not needed. A rail system can use bus stop-like boarding points located along the line. Rail service doesn’t require parking lots any more than bus service does.

The corridor has width enough for trail and rail. A single track is adequate, with three passing sidings, and there is room for these.

Estimates cannot be made for the cost of building a system that has yet to be designed. The “billion-dollar” tag is a fantasy from nowhere. RTC anticipates most of the funding ultimately required will be from the proceeds of state and federal grants, not local property tax increments.

“Rail-banking,” is not an applicable concept. Railbanking is a voluntary agreement provided for in federal law, between a railroad company and a trail agency, to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail, until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service. That is not the case here.

There’s been no abandonment. RTC owns the land in the corridor in perpetuity, and all the improvements in it. It was intended for passenger rail purposes, pursuant to the 2010 purchase agreement between Union Pacific Railroad Company (“UPRR”) and RTC (the “PSA”).

CTC conditions on its $11 million purchase money required RTC to be planning for passenger rail service or refund the investment.

UPRR, the seller to RTC, has reserved an easement in all of the line for freight railroad purposes, as may be required by the Federal Surface Transportation Board.

Those are the facts.

To boil it all down, the misdirected strategy of Greenway/ Trail Now and Manu Koenig, and their funders, apparently is to bully, bamboozle, scheme, and rip off ownership of the most valuable parts of the corridor for themselves, and for their wealthy landowner benefactors, for private profit.

It’s a land-grab scheme.

This is not the way things ought to go.

Jim Weller is a Capitola resident.


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