The Coastal Rail Trail
Our beautiful and spacious 32-mile long Santa Cruz County Coastal Rail Trail is under construction now, alongside the existing railroad tracks. This incredible legacy project will be a fully-paved 12 to 16 foot wide multi-use walking and biking path, and will form the the central spine of the full regional trail network described in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Final Master Plan.
The Rail Trail is the flagship trail project of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). For more information on the trail, also see the RTC Project Website. To see past updates on trail construction progress, go to our Coast Connect Updates page. To stay current on progress, Sign Up for our monthly Coast Connect newsletter.
Where does the Rail Trail go?
The Rail Trail runs approximately 32 miles along the coast, from Davenport through Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Capitola, Aptos/Seacliff, La Selva, and Watsonville, to Pajaro. The Rail Trail will be within a mile of 92 parks, 44 schools and half the county’s population. In addition to the 32 mile Rail Trail spine, the MBSST Network Master Plan includes 18 miles of spur trails connecting the Rail Trail with other destinations. Including these spur trails, the total length of the MBSST trail network is about 50 miles. Our Rail Trail then joins with the Monterey Coastal Trail Network to form parts of the much larger California Coastal Trail.
What’s the Fastest Way to Get the Trail Built?
The current trail design alongside the tracks is part of an already-approved master plan and environmental impact report. Working within this approved plan by preserving the tracks and building asongside them is the fastest way to get the trail built.
How Can I Help?
The trail is an legacy project that needs ongoing support from the community in order to succeed. Some of our advocacy work involves supporting individual trail segments, such as asking the Coastal Commission to issue permits for a specific segment. Other work involves supporting the whole project, such as advocating to keep the tracks in place so that trail construction can continue without disruption or delay. Please Sign Up for the Newsletters and Action Alerts, to help overcome obstacles and get the trail built as quickly as possible.
Transit on our Rail Corridor
Congestion and carbon emissions in the county are growing. The need for improved north-south transportation and increased transit use is critical. Using the corridor for an integrated public transportation service is the only avenue available to address so many needs simultaneously:
The Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study:
The RTC has launched the TCAA study to choose a transit option for the rail corridor between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. The study will assess each transit alternative by scoring how it does on measures of Economy, Equity, and Environment. We believe rail scores best in all three areas. We invite you to send an email to the RTC at firstname.lastname@example.org! Here are some suggested talking points:
An Integrated Transportation Network is Attainable
Safe Streets Initiatives
Safety is fundamental to our willingness to leave the automobile at home and walk or bike to our destinations or to transit. County-wide investments in safe streets and construction of the MBSST trail network can provide safe options for pedestrians and bike riders of all ages and abilities.
Expanding First Mile / Last Mile Mobility Options
New forms of personal transport, including eBikes and eScooters, are becoming available. New sharing platforms make these options more accessible, reduce costs, remove theft concerns, and allow flexible open-ended trip planning. Combining these options with an easy roll on / roll off experience for personal bikes on light rail will expand public transport adoption and reduce our dependency on automobiles.
CA State Rail Plan
The $144B plan represents a strong commitment to shift miles traveled from highway to railways as part of our planned 80% reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Passenger rail on our branch line is an integral part of this plan with specific line item funding. An integrated rail & transit network is expected to achieve a world class 15-20% share of all passenger miles in California by 2040.
New Rail Technology
Rail is already recognized as the most efficient mode of transit. Electrified trains using zero emission power from a growing supply of clean alternative sources make rail even greener. These trains are also lighter, reducing loads and maintenance on infrastructure. Finally, these trains are quieter reducing impact in neighborhoods adjacent to rail lines.
Early 2021: The Choice Is Ours
The conclusion of the 2018 Unified Corridor Study (UCS) found that a rail solution was the best overall option for the corridor. After the release of the study, the Regional Transportation Commission voted to build the trail and keep the rail for a high capacity transit solution. As part of this process, the RTC also commissioned a more detailed study, the Alternative Analysis, to examine the full range of transit options in the corridor.
We believe that rail is the only transit choice that can provide the foundation of a truly integrated multi-modal transportation system. Rail is the only option that is immune to traffic congestion, provides true accessibility for all users, preserves the easement, and ensures the continuing construction of the trail.
Rail is projected to increase transit ridership and associated revenue, representing a win for our community and a more viable future for local public transportation.