By Aiyana Moya
The Santa Cruz City Council unanimously voted to oppose the potential abandoning of freight service on the Felton and Santa Cruz Rail Lines at its meeting Tuesday. The vote will have no formal power, but it signals to the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) that the council sides with Roaring Camp Railroads in the battle over the future of the rail lines.
On Feb. 3, the RTC held a public meeting about potentially abandoning the Felton Branch Rail Line, which would deem it “railbanked.” According to a staff report on the issue, this move would allow for the potential to haul freight in the future and would put off the estimated $50-plus million in repairs that the line needs.
But Roaring Camp sees the RTC’s proposal as “an aggressive attack” on the railroad, fueled by lobbyists working to “end rail in Santa Cruz County,” according to a public statement on the matter.
“We are in a deadlock,” said Councilwoman Sandy Brown, who is also on the RTC, at the council meeting. “That’s the reality. We are really stalled.”
All members of the council spoke about the importance of supporting transportation infrastructure when making their vote to oppose abandoning the freight lines. Councilmembers Donna Meyers and Justin Cummings also noted that although the repairs needed will be substantial, both in scope and funding, they aren’t unfeasible.
“This effort to bring rail and trail to our community has been going on since the late 80s,” said Cummings. “Over the past two years, we’ve been seeing segments get built, and the efforts over time are leading us to making rail and trail a reality. We need to do what we can to keep this effort alive.”
Council also discussed the city’s budget, which, according to City Interim Finance Director Bobby Magee, will need to see a cut of $2.5 million during the next fiscal year. At the current rate of spending and if no new sources of revenue are secured, Magee said, projections show the city’s reserves running dry by 2028.
“Our operations are stretched thin,” said City Manager Matt Huffaker. “That’s why a discussion around exploring this additional sales tax measure is going to be important as we [think about] long term financial planning.”
A proposal for a new sales tax is expected to be brought before the council in early March. City staff has been polling residents about a new sales tax, one that voters could see on the June 7 ballot this year. Some 59% of respondents supported a new sales tax according to a January poll, Huffaker said.
“New revenue opportunities will be a key piece of what that rebuilding looks like,” said Huffaker.
Read the original article at https://goodtimes.sc/santa-cruz-news/santa-cruz-city-council-opposes-abandoning-freight-lines/
By Jonathan Vankin
Sometime in 1865, 15 years after Santa Cruz became one of California’s original 27 counties, a group of the region’s richest men led by merchant and real estate tycoon Frederick Hihn and sugar magnate Claus Spreckels—both German immigrants who became millionaires in their Californian business ventures—led a push to build a railroad along the coastline. After considerable wrangling and political back-and-forth, by 1871 they’d convinced voters to back a bond measure to finance construction of the railroad.
The Southern Pacific Railroad, by far the most powerful corporation of any kind in the state at that time, began the process of surveying land for the rail line the following year. But a European stock market crash that led to a widespread railroad bond sell-off, and ignited what came to be called the Panic of 1873, spooked even the mighty Southern Pacific.
But not Hihn and Spreckels. They persuaded a group of local businessmen to back the rail line themselves, and even put some of their own cash into the endeavor, on top of the $100,000 in previously approved county funding (about $2.3 million in 2022 money). Construction got underway, carried out mostly by Chinese laborers who were paid one dollar per day for six 10-hour days per week, with two dollars deducted for meal expenses.
There was a brief roadblock in 1874 when lawyers for the city of Watsonville, understandably upset that the rail line would bypass their city, obtained a court injunction against county funds going to the rail line. Spreckels himself covered for the stalled county funds, pouring more of his own personal fortune into the project, and construction continued anyway.
A couple of years later, Hihn decided to extend the line into Wastonville after all. The city dropped its injunction. The first freight train on the tracks, pulled by a locomotive named Betsy Jane, delivered two loads of potatoes to the city of Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Railroad after more than a decade was up and running.
Betsy Jane is long gone, and even the seemingly indomitable Southern Pacific Railroad has faded in the mists of history thanks to a 1996 corporate takeover by its competitor, Union Pacific Railroad. The railroad tracks laid down almost 150 years ago are still there.
Trains keep running along parts of the railway, some carrying freight, others carrying tourists. And yet, today, the Santa Cruz Rail Line is at the center of one of that county’s most heated, longest-running and complicated controversies.
What is the ‘Rail Trail’ Movement?Put simply, “Rail Trail,” or as it’s sometimes called, “Rails to Trails,” is a type of environmental conservation movement whose aim is to convert unused or underused rail corridors into scenic trails for hiking, biking and other types of outdoor recreation. The movement can trace its origins back to 1960, when the state of Wisconsin bought a segment of railway owned by the Chicago and North Western Railroad running between the cities of Elroy and Sparta. The state then converted the former rail corridor into a public trail perfect for mountain biking, snowmobiling, cross country skiing or plain old walking. Still popular today, the 39-mile Elroy-Sparta State Trail stands as the first “rail trail” in the United States.
In 1980, Congress passed the Staggers Rail Act, largely deregulating the rail industry, which had been in steady decline for much of the 20th century thanks to the automobile and the growth of commercial air travel. In the immediate postwar years, from 1944 to 1949, rail traffic dropped by 28 percent, after an earlier 50 percent collapse in the Great Depression. By the 1970s, 21 percent of the country’s railroad track was controlled by railroad companies in bankruptcy.
The Staggers Rail Act changed all that. Named for its sponsor, West Virginia Democratic Rep. Harley O. Staggers, described by the New York Times as an “old-style liberal,” the law took the authority to set railroad routes and service away from the government and put it into the hands of the railroad companies themselves. The Staggers Act is credited by experts for restoring the railroad industry to a healthy financial state with better, more efficient services and even reduced prices. A report by the Brookings Institute 25 years after passage of the act found that it had “accomplished its primary goal of putting the U.S. rail freight industry on a more secure financial footing,” and proven “a great boon for shippers as rail carriers have passed on some of their cost savings to them in lower rates and significantly improved service times and reliability.”
The law, however, also led the rail companies to abandon thousands of miles of track on poorly traveled routes in their campaign to increase efficiency.
There appear to be no reliable figures on exactly how many miles of abandoned track now exist in the United States. But tens of thousands seems like a reasonable estimate. The site Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places has compiled a crowdsourced, continually updated Google Map showing the exact locations of almost 10,000 individual stretches of abandoned track throughout the contiguous United States.
RailbankingAs railroads streamlined their operations by dumping poorly traveled routes and the tracks on which those routes were traveled, Congress began to worry that the country was losing too much railroad track. In 1983, federal legislators passed a set of amendments to the 1968 National Trails System Act—a law that created a network of federally managed trails—which allowed for a process that came to be known as railbanking.
Rather than allowing tracks to be simply abandoned, they could be conveyed to another owner, such as a state or county government, or even a private organization, and be held and maintained for possible future railroad use. Until that time (if it ever came), the right of way associated with the old tracks could be used as public bike and hiking trails—or other uses, as long as they did not prevent the tracks from re-converting to railroads if needed at some point down the line.
In February of 1986, a longtime environmental activist and avid bicyclist named Peter Harnik, then 36 years old, opened the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) in Washington, D.C. The group would be dedicated to converting abandoned and railbanked tracks into trails for cycling, hiking, roller skating and whatever other recreational use came to mind.
While most of the projects RTC supports involve replacing tracks with trails, there are a growing number of trail AND rail projects, as electric trains become more efficient and affordable.
So, What’s Going On in Santa Cruz?In 1990, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC), the county’s Regional Transportation Planning Agency created by state legislation in 1972, started its effort to buy out a segment of the old Santa Cruz Railroad, running from Watsonville to Davenport. It wasn’t as easy as plunking $10.2 million on the counter and walking away with 32 miles of railroad track. The purchase wasn’t complete for another 22 years.
Why did the SCCRTC want the tracks so badly? “To expand transportation options for everyone in the community now and into the future,” the SCCRTC says on its website. “The goal is to maximize use by preserving a range of possible options including: a bicycle & pedestrian trail, transit, goods movement and recreational train activities.”
The SCCRTC’s plan was to maintain the tracks for use by freight trains, as well as commuter and/or tourist trains, while adding a trail alongside the existing railbed. The $10.2 million in state funds used to purchase the tracks—public money generated by 1990’s Proposition 116, the Rail Transportation Bond Initiative—specifically targeted that dual use.
But the final decision may not be up to the SCCRTC. A nonprofit known as Greenway Santa Cruz County has another idea—get rid of rail service altogether to create a “Greenway,” that is, “a wide pathway that safely separates people with small children and dogs from people traveling at higher speeds on bicycles, e-bikes, e-boards, and in wheelchairs—providing both healthy recreation and convenient transportation.”
Greenway has a petition that the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors took up at a Feb. 1 meeting. The nonprofit asked the supervisors to place its petition before voters as a ballot measure in June, 2022, leaving the decision on the future of the Rail Trail project up to county residents. The supervisors at that meeting decided not to decide, putting off the question to a later meeting.
SCCRTC Wants to Railbank the Old TracksThe SCCRTC plans were also intensely controversial. At a Feb. 3 meeting, at which no action was taken, the commission presided over a lengthy public discussion of its plans to railbank the Santa Cruz Railroad line that it has owned since 2012. If it goes ahead with the railbanking project, the line would isolate the Felton Branch Line now used by Roaring Camp Railroads, a tourist rail company that has been in business taking passengers from its property in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the beach since 1985. Roaring Camp’s Felton Branch Line would be completely cut off from the national rail network.
The proposed railbanking would also mean the end of freight service on the Santa Cruz line, another business in which Roaring Camp is engaged. Railbanking would reportedly save $50 million to $60 million in maintenance costs for the train tracks, and put the tracks under the complete control of the SCCRTC, and away from federal regulators. SCCRTC says it is also considering “adverse abandonment” of Roaring Camp’s Felton Branch Line, which would preclude freight service on its tracks for good.
“Loss of our rights to freight service on the Felton Branch Rail Line line will mean a loss of current federal protection of our line,” wrote Roaring Camp CEO Melani Clark in a public statement. “Loss of federal protection will mean that our ability to reach the Boardwalk with our tourist trains will be entirely controlled by the [SCCRTC] and subject to the whims of the current [SCCRTC] board and leadership, as well as those of the future.”
Alternate SCCRTC Commissioner Felipe Hernandez at the Feb. 3 meeting said that railbanking would also have a potentially devastating effect on Watsonville’s economy.
“If we lose freight and the possibility of a passenger train, Watsonville’s 56,000 residents—85% of which are Latino—stand to lose everything, from jobs to transportation equity to (an acceptable) quality of life,” Hernandez said, as quoted by the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “We need to preserve the rail lines, protecting our county’s gems like Roaring Camp as well as our economic assets like Big Creek (Lumber).”
So when will the SCCRTC make the decision on whether to go ahead with the railbanking of the Santa Cruz Railroad line—the process that clears the way for railbaking the tracks, and which according to Clark will lead to the “slow death” of her company?
“I don’t really feel comfortable putting a timeline on it,” said SCRTC Executive Director Guy Preston, in an interview with Santa Cruz Local. “It may never happen.”
Read the original article at https://californialocal.com/localnews/santa-cruz/ca/article/show/3042-rail-trail-movement-explained/
Transcript by California Local
Andy Schiffrin, who served for 40 years as an administrative analyst for the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, delivered these remarks during SCCRTC’s Feb. 3 meeting, where the commission took up a proposal to close off Santa Cruz area rail lines to freight service. The meeting, which took place on Zoom, had more than 500 viewers, and RTC reports that it received around 6,000 emails on the topic.
Here, Schiffrin discusses the Greenway initiative, charging that its supporters “make a number of misleading arguments that only confuse the issue.”
Schiffrin is a longtime lecturer on land use planning in the Environmental Studies Department at UCSC. He serves on the SCCRTC as an alternate to County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Well, we have many members of the public who have been here before. We have also other members of the public who are here for the first time and it may be helpful to take a little time to put the issue into context.
The staff report, I think, was very detailed and provided a lot of information—but if you’re new to the game it could be very confusing. It was somewhat difficult to understand, even for me, who's been in the game for a long time, so I wanted to talk about: Why is rail abandonment even an issue, [and] why are we talking about it? It's really about, what do we want to do with the rail corridor? And in the end the choices are simple, although the details are extremely complex.
If I could give a little background: There are two types of transportation on railroad tracks—there’s freight service and there’s passenger service. Freight service is regulated by the federal government; passenger service isn’t. Historically the Santa Cruz Rail Line has been used for both freight and passenger.
A freight easement on a line gives a rail operator the right to run freight trains on the line. When the RTC bought the rail line it bought the property, but Union Pacific sold freight rights to a private company. The RTC has an agreement with the current owner of the freight easement where each party has rights and obligations.
A freight easement can be abandoned in two ways, but it must be approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board, the STB. The owner of the freight easement can voluntarily apply for abandonment, or a public agency like the RTC can apply for an adverse abandonment.
The company that holds the freight easement now has refused to apply for abandonment voluntarily. Ostensibly I think based on the opposition of Roaring Camp. The STB will only approve abandonment—again, as I understand it—based on evidence that freight service is no longer viable and won’t be in the future.
I think that’s the context in which we’re all dealing with this issue.
Here are a few what I think of as indisputable facts:
The rail line from Watsonville north is currently inoperable for either freight or passenger service. It needs significant repairs before trains can run on it again. We’ve heard a lot of testimony about how much those repairs may or may not cost, but they are needed. It’s inoperable now.
Secondly, there is a proposal from Greenway for a 20-foot-wide trail in the existing right-of-way. The Greenway is defined as including two lanes of wheeled traffic on a paved path, a divider, and a separate walkway for pedestrians, with a shoulder on both sides. As the Executive Director stated, the Greenway trail proposal would require the removal of the tracks for it to be constructed because the corridor’s right of way is not wide enough for both the Greenway trail and the railroad tracks.
The railroad tracks, however, cannot be removed as long as there is a freight easement. The only way to remove the freight easement is to abandon it—either voluntarily by the owner or through adverse abandonment. The Surface Transportation Board, as I said, must approve any application to abandon it. So in the end, the Greenway trail requires the removal of the railroad tracks, and this cannot occur without the abandonment of the freight easement.
This, then is where we get into the motives of the various participants in this discussion that we’ve been hearing from. It’s confusing because not everyone has the same motives for wanting abandonment. The RTC staff favors the abandonment, as I understand it, because it will make it easier to build the rail trail along the corridor. Greenway supporters favor abandonment, obviously, because the Greenway trail can’t be built without it.
Roaring Camp opposes abandonment because of the fear that it will eliminate their opportunity to provide rail service—freight service and maybe even passenger service in the future on the line.
So the arguments for the benefits of abandonment from the RTC staff perspective are that they would make constructing segments of the rail trail easier by dealing with liability issues and by reducing environmental impacts and costs. And of course the supporters of rail service oppose abandonment because they see it as the first step to removing the tracks.
Greenway advocates, as seen in the definition of the trail itself, recognize and support the removal of the tracks so that a trail can be constructed. However, unfortunately, from my perspective Greenway advocates make a number of misleading arguments that only confuse the issue.
They argue that the RTC only wants to remove the freight easement because the cost of preparing the tracks for freight is expensive and it’s not about the kind of passenger service Roaring Camp provides. This is true but ignores the fact that by removing the tracks no train service will be possible.
Greenway advocates also argue that abandonment does not require removal of the tracks—this is probably, from my perspective, the most disingenuous argument since, while it is legally true, it doesn’t admit the fact that without abandonment there can be no Greenway.
Greenway advocates argue that even if the tracks are removed, they can be put back if funding for rail service becomes feasible. How likely is that, especially should the Greenway initiative pass?
Greenway advocates argue that railbanking requires that the rail corridor be preserved. This only means that the right-of-way can’t be sold off. With railbanking, the track can be ripped up.
The Greenway initiative has now qualified for the ballot and will be voted on in June. It’s related to the abandonment issue because the supporters of the initiative have made and will continue to make the argument that the initiative would not prevent rail service from returning to the corridor even if the Greenway trail is built. Is it realistic to think that public transit would ever return if the initiative passes, since it adopts the trail as county policy and all but eliminates references to rail in the county general plan?
Despite the misleading rhetoric, if the freight easement is abandoned, Greenway supporters will undoubtedly advocate that the rail tracks be removed. And if they succeed, the likelihood of rail service ever returning between Santa Cruz and Watsonville is zero to none.
Based on all this, I do not support the adverse abandonment of freight easement. And if we could vote on it today, I would be voting no.
Finally, in a fundamental way, this whole debate, as some speakers have said to the commission, seems like an exercise in futility.
Among the over 6,000 emails I’ve received opposing abandonment was a letter from the San Lorenzo fire districts opposing abandonment based on the potential need of an operable rail line during an actual emergency like a devastating wildfire. There has also been email and testimony from private companies indicating that they would use the line to move their products if the line was in operation.
Given these, and the strong opposition from Roaring Camp, I think it is extremely doubtful that the STB would approve an adverse abandonment application.
The most important point to remember, from my perspective, is that the Greenway will require the removal of the tracks and that can only occur if the existing freight easement is abandoned.
If there is to be a solution it will be based on compromise and cooperation.
I urge us to move forward in that direction and I hope staff, as indicated by Commissioner McPherson, will take up the Roaring Camp offer to negotiate and see if it's possible to work out a mutually acceptable agreement.
Thank you very much.
See a video of Andy Schiffrin delivering his remarks during SCCRTC’s Feb. 3 meeting here.
The original transcript is viewable here.
By Jayme Ackemann
In January, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that thanks to surplus budget revenues and a massive federal infrastructure investment package our state would make more than $2 billion in funding available for rail and transportation projects.
This seems like a less-than-ideal time for Santa Cruz County’s Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to consider abandoning some of the rail corridors that could potentially benefit from those infrastructure investment dollars.
Stated simply, Santa Cruz County’s RTC wants to walk away from the millions that are available for state rail projects, and pay more than $14 million in Prop 116 funding BACK to the state for money used to purchase the rail corridor that they are now hoping to abandon.
On February 3, the RTC will consider whether to ask the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to approve a forced abandonment of the Felton Branch Line for freight operations. If that’s approved, RTC will likely pursue abandonment of the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Line next.
Roaring Camp Railroad in Felton is opposing the move. Its tourist trains operate over that corridor and it holds the right to use the line for freight business. If the STB abandons it, the corridor could lose federal regulatory protections and that could result in jeopardizing its easements to operate through certain areas like the state-owned Henry Cowell Redwoods Park.
In 2012, RTC used state Prop 116 funding to purchase the Santa Cruz Branch Line of the Union Pacific-owned railroad operating through Santa Cruz County. The money came with strings attached. As part of the “Clean Air and Transportation Improvement Act of 1990,” that funding was stipulated for use on a narrow band of projects that made $1.99 billion available for “passenger rail projects” or “bicycle and pedestrian paths in conjunction with rail and/or transit services.”
This means that a rail + trail project, as is currently recommended under the Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis (TCAA) recently completed by RTC, would still be eligible for that funding but if the RTC abandons the Santa Cruz and Felton Branch Lines and opts for ‘rail banking’ they would have to reimburse the state. For an explanation of railbanking, see my earlier column. slvpost.com/path-to-rail-trail-decision-must-cross-four-bridges.
It’s less clear how the Santa Cruz County voters who approved rail funding to be included as part of Measure D in 2016 would be reimbursed. The measure, which passed with more than ⅔ support across Santa Cruz County residents, allocated 8% of its funding to the preservation of rail corridor infrastructure and study of rail alternatives. An analysis that was completed in 2021 and resulted in the RTC’s adoption of a locally preferred electric passenger rail alternative, that afforded space for a bicycle and pedestrian use trail.
The voters of Santa Cruz County do not seem deeply conflicted about rail. They have repeatedly asserted their desire to see it in operation. So what’s changed?
The commissioners will tell you that the business plan completed following the passage of the TCAA suggested that the costs to implement and operate rail would simply be too great.
The problem is that they stipulated that more funding would be needed to implement the project when they approved the TCAA. The business plan should have been an exercise in understanding the various funding and operating models, selecting a preferred alternative and then putting together the funding recommendation.
No project is fully funded at its early conceptual stage. When the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority decided to bring BART to San Jose it developed a project plan, took it to the voters for sales tax authorization and then used that funding to seek federal earmarks. It didn’t happen overnight – massive infrastructure investments never do. But that’s because these are generational projects – investments we make as much for ourselves as for the future Santa Cruz County residents we hope will be able to enjoy living here as much as we do.
San Lorenzo Valley voters in the Fifth District get it. According to a 2021 survey conducted by CA-based FM3 Research (Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates), 73% of registered voters in the 5th Supervisorial District support continued planning for both rail AND trail.
That’s a significant number and Supervisor McPherson Bruce should take note. For a little perspective, Santa Cruz County residents only voted in favor of marijuana legalization by 69.89% so getting 73% support is a noteworthy feat.
Still Support Rail AND Trail? Send a Letter
Supervisor McPherson, who is also an RTC Commissioner, needs to hear from San Lorenzo Valley that we oppose the forced abandonment of the Felton Branch Line before the RTC meeting on February 3 and thereafter as long as the issue remains unresolved. If the RTC eventually votes in favor of forced abandonment, it will then go before the state Surface Transportation Board for final approval. The public will then have additional opportunities to comment before that decision is made.
Roaring Camp employs our neighbors, attracts tourist dollars to our community, and hosts some of our best-loved community celebrations. You can support this beloved institution by writing a letter today to Supervisor Bruce McPherson at Bruce.McPherson@santacruzcounty.us. And use Roaring Camp’s form to reach all of the RTC Commissioners at roaringcamp.com/save-the-beach-train.
Read original article at https://slvpost.com/roaring-camps-future-in-question-transportation-commission-considers-forced-abandonment/.
Ep.113: Faina Segal | Why Santa Cruz County Needs a Rail & Trail
ICYMI: Here’s a download of what’s going on with the Rail & Trail projects in Santa Cruz County. Tune in to hear where the project stands, where it should go, and what’s behind the 6:6 vote. A huge thanks goes to Thomas Sage Pedersen and Speak For Change podcast for having us!
San Lorenzo Valley Post
By Jayme Ackemann
A private excursion train operator is hosting a demonstration project for one vision of rail service using a “ZEMU,” or zero-emission multiple unit, that could operate on tracks between Watsonville and Santa Cruz.
The Coast Futura, operated by TIG/m, offered tickets for two weekends in October to show Santa Cruz County residents what an electric streetcar might be able to offer the region as it grapples with a decision about the best use for the tracks.
There’s room for a healthy debate about what transit solutions might benefit all of the various interests trying to resolve traffic congestion and what role the out-of-service corridor might play without leaning on unnecessary fear tactics and obfuscation to make an argument.
Take claims about “dark money” funding the demonstration project. Those claims are among a raft of somewhat incendiary inferences made by Greenway, a mid-county group opposing rail alternatives previously led by 1st District Supervisor Manu Koenig prior to his election.
The money probably isn’t any “darker” than the funding behind Greenway. Coast Futura is merely the name of the demonstration project being operated by a joint coalition that includes TIG/m and Santa Cruz Big Trees Pacific Rail, which owns Roaring Camp Railroads and operates freight service in south county.
The big picture is that Santa Cruz County has a traffic congestion problem that disproportionately impacts residents in the southern part of the county. A rail solution is one possible option that could help to address that congestion but has never been intended as the sole solution – which is another issue that rail opponents ignore when they suggest this project should be abandoned because alone it can’t resolve all of the traffic congestion.
Santa Cruz County Regional Transit Commission studied a host of projects that would address the congestion along this corridor as part of its Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study. While rehabilitating the rail corridor is among solutions that could have a meaningful impact on congestion – a bike-only trail probably doesn’t do anything more to solve that problem than the rail opponents suggest Coast Futura might. So this talking point probably doesn’t bear much fruit.
Greenway goes on to ominously suggest that allowing a for-profit private contractor to operate a county service on county-owned, right-of-way would be somehow inappropriate and Supervisor Koenig shares this concern.
“The coastal corridor is owned by the public. Anyone should be able to bring whatever wheels they want and ride on a trail for free,” Koenig said in an emailed statement. “We should not have to pay for a ride on some mall trolley to experience the beauty of soaring over the Capitola Trestle or Watsonville wetlands.”
In his statement, Koenig also pointed out that contracting for essential county services is different, but I fail to see the distinction between contracting out the county’s fire recovery responsibilities to for-profit operator 4Leaf, Inc. and contracting with a private operator for transit service. That’s also a fairly common operating model in the Bay Area.
Caltrain is a publicly-owned service, using tracks owned by the counties through which it operates, and operated entirely on contract by a for-profit operator – TransitAmerica Services Inc. (TASI), a subsidiary of Herzog. Coincidentally one of the individuals behind TIG/m also formerly advised Herzog, so perhaps they aren’t as inexperienced as Greenway would suggest.
The fact is there are many publicly-owned right-of-ways upon which you cannot walk or ride your bicycle. Highway One south of Santa Cruz is one such example; the Caltrain tracks extending more than 50 miles between San Jose and San Francisco are another.
Traffic congestion and its impacts on the quality of life for those residents routinely delayed by it are social justice issues in that the negative impacts more frequently accrue to lower-income individuals who are forced to rent or purchase housing further away from job centers due to affordability issues but then find themselves losing hours of their lives to congestion.
We need to start talking in a civil way about real solutions. Streetcars and bike trails may not get us there but there are good-faith arguments on both sides to be heard without all of the incendiary or misleading rhetoric.
Read the original article at https://slvpost.com/accusations-abound-as-electric-streetcar-demo-rolls-out/
On June 3 Pauline Seales interviewed Barry Scott, a volunteer for Friends of the Rail trail known as FORT.
They discussed many aspects of this problems including the equity imperative for usable public transportation, the strong potential for future state funding and the fallacy of “rail banking”.
To learn more about the battery electric street car option go to coastfutura.org
Download the show: ksqd_june3_2021.m4a
Original posting by KSQD: https://ksqd.org/the-rail-trail-how-to-move-forward/
Rail Trail coming to a head: Supporters make big push to keep rail on track heading into key vote next week
Lookout Santa Cruz
The decades-long Rail Trail debate is headed into a second battle next week, as the county Regional Transportation Commission decides whether to approve a business plan for passenger rail or shelve the plan. Supporters of the rail line are on the offensive — sending letters and making their voices heard.
Here’s what will happen on Thursday, May 6: The 12-member commission is expected to vote on the Rail Trail “business plan” for a second time after a motion to approve it failed in an initial vote on April 1. The business plan’s aim is to have an electric commuter train system on the old Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line corridor, with a trail alongside it. If the business plan isn’t approved next week, the likelihood of the rail line coming to fruition looks even slimmer than it does now.
In a last-ditch effort to get the rail momentum back on track, rail proponents rallied Wednesday in Aptos, forming a human train along the dormant branch line tracks to show public support for the project.
Earlier this week, the Santa Cruz City Council approved a resolution in support of the business plan, which acts as a roadmap drafted by planners to outline funding sources and implementation steps to make passenger rail a reality.
When a similar move to back the business plan went before Watsonville City Council on Tuesday evening, some city leaders sparred over it. Councilmember Lowell Hurst, who supports the Rail Trail business plan, said he thought it was crucial for Watsonville leaders to speak as one body before the next RTC meeting.
Not long ago, the Watsonville City Council passed a resolution in support of rail. Hurst and Councilmember Aurelio Gonzalez, the RTC chairperson, wanted another such vote of confidence before next week’s decision.
“I think we need another go at it, because they’re going to have another meeting, and they couldn’t decide what to do last time, and I just don’t want to see the Pajaro Valley left behind, socially, economically, transportation justice-wise,” Hurst said Tuesday night.
The council decided to call a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Friday to vote on a resolution. Hurst and Gonzalez wanted to approve a resolution in favor of the business plan during Tuesday’s council meeting but were too late to add the item to the agenda, according to Mayor Jimmy Dutra.
The RTC’s 6-6 tie vote earlier this month meant that, at least for now, its staff won’t be directed to seek federal and/or state funding to complete preliminary engineering and environmental reviews for electric passenger rail along the corridor.
Although the issue is set to return before RTC commissioners next week, at which point they could decide to vote differently, the failed vote in early April marked a drastic public setback for the proposal, putting its future in doubt and raising alarm among supporters of a train and trail vision.
The tie vote came after the RTC — which is made up of county supervisors, local elected officials and members appointed by the Santa Cruz Metro transit agency — in February approved a staff report, by a 9-3 vote, that pointed to electric rail as the “preferred local alternative” transit option for the corridor.
Still, concerns over future costs and how to pay for a train surfaced. Even some members who voted in favor of moving ahead in February were skeptical. Patrick Mulhearn, a staff member who sometimes represents Supervisor Zach Friend on the RTC, was among them. By early April he was one of the six commissioners who voted against the business plan.
“My real issue is the opportunity cost of pursuing rail,” Mulhearn said at the April 1 meeting. “It means that we’re not talking about other things that we could be implementing right now, with money that we already have.”
Longtime opponents of rail have argued that a train along the corridor is too costly and will be underutilized. To them, the failed April vote marked a welcome step in the right direction.
“It’s about time the commissioners listened to the people,” said Bud Colligan, a board member of trail-only advocacy group Greenway. “Perhaps now we can find a plan to move forward together.”
With the future of a train along the coastal corridor in doubt, supporters rail supporters have ramped up efforts to spread their message.
About 30 proponents of a train and trail vision, including Hurst, gathered at Aptos Village Wednesday morning, hoping to rally support for the project and capture the attention of RTC members who voted against the business plan. Among the targets: Mulhearn and Friend.
Friend “needs to get the point,” said Sally Arnold, a board member for Friends of the Rail & Trail, the advocacy group that organized the event. Arnold said she wanted to prove to Friend that the Rail & Trail is a popular project in his district, and one that he should get behind.
“We’re here trying to demonstrate how clean light rail will be good for Aptos Village,” she said, adding that visitors could arrive via train and spend money at local businesses without clogging up roads.
By Isabella Cueto, Patrick Riley
To read the original piece on Lookout click Rail Trail coming to a head: Supporters make big push to keep rail on track heading into key vote next week
Santa Cruz Sentinel
APTOS — Wednesday morning, members of Friends of the Rail and Trail ]rallied along the rail corridor in Aptos Village to send a message that despite the tied 6-6 vote at the last Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission meeting, their advocacy isn’t going anywhere.
On April 1, RTC continued an agenda item around the business plan for electric passenger rail that would span more than 30 miles from Davenport to Pajaro. This decision was made despite the commission’s 9-3 vote in February to accept electric passenger rail as its “locally preferred alternative.” Patrick Mulhearn, the alternate for Zach Friend, voted against the business plan. Mulhearn cited his distaste for staff’s definition of “feasibility,” feeling it to be inaccurate that the project itself was feasible at this time.
“It’s really important that we emphasize the disparity between options for north and south county, and that’s why we’re here in Aptos Village,” Friends of the Rail and Trail president Faina Segal said. “Zach Friend and his alternate Patrick Mulhearn voted no and they aren’t listening to his constituents and they aren’t listening to the people who live in District 2 who really need better transportation options.”
Segal listed the need for space for emergency vehicles currently clogged by citizen and visitor cars, the priority to reduce traffic, issues around parking locally and the opportunity to bring people down into the villages in places such as Aptos and Capitola which she considers “the heart of Santa Cruz County” as reasons to support electric passenger rail.
“We will continue to advocate until we get a different vote,” Segal said. “We won’t go away, we’re not going to let them forget about this. It will not be shelved.”
Lowell Hurst, former Watsonville mayor and current city councilmember, stood just feet from Segal holding a sign that said “tourists without traffic.” Hurst told the Sentinel he felt it to be his municipal responsibility to ensure access and equal opportunity in transportation.
“I’m a lucky retiree and I get to go where I want to go. If I could come to Santa Cruz more often and not have a car, maybe put my bike on a rail car and enjoy the best of both worlds that’s what I’m looking forward to,” Hurst said. “I know that many of our workers in Watsonville would really like relief from traffic congestion and they would like to be able to maybe even work while they ride.”
Hurst mentioned Transportation Agency for Monterey County’s plans to expand its branch line that would encompass both buses and light rail. Currently, according to the agency’s website, the project is on hold due to a lack of funding.
“If our residents, particularly our disabled residents and our elderly residents, could have the comfort of riding and not worry about riding they could go visit their families. Many disabled folks could be able to have jobs where they can’t afford to live and they could be able to get transportation back and forth,” Hurst said. “We have seen this in other places all over the world. There’s really no reason we can’t do it right here on the Central Coast.”
The idea of weaving in all forms of transportation — walking, biking and riding on a passenger rail — is exactly what Friends of the Rail and Trail is in favor of, said former president Sally Arnold.
“Our point is that the rail is the spine and the buses are the ribs that come off the spine,” she said. “It’s an integrated system. There are some people who are trying to make this as if it’s rail or buses. It’s not either/or, you like trains or you like bikes. It all works together. We want it all.”
Senior Cara Lamb is one of the individuals who would directly benefit from a county rail system. A METRO rider for nearly 30 years, Lamb has been affected by the downtown store closures in Santa Cruz and now has to ride into Capitola for most of her material needs. She has not driven in the area since 1992 and now that journey is approximately two hours each way through the bus system.
“Let’s say I want to go to Capitola village. The fastest way to get to Capitola village would be first I walk half a mile to a bus stop. Then I take a bus to downtown. Then I take another bus to the mall. Then I walk to Capitola village because waiting for the bus that goes there, assuming it’s even running anymore, takes too long,” Lamb said. “I could walk a shorter distance to a train station and just be in Capitola village in 15 minutes.”
Beyond better serving residents, a rail system in addition to trail on either side would fulfill the need to treat the county’s visitors kindly, voiced local Mary Jane Slade.
“Travel is one of the staples of our economy,” she said. “This is one of the most beautiful trail rides. So let’s use it, let’s get ’em out there, through our county. (We) can make it pleasant for everyone and not be stuck in traffic.”
Establishing an electric passenger rail system will bring Santa Cruz County up to snuff with incoming national environmental policies, resident Liz Ann Keys said.
“We just need to be in sync, especially in California we need to be in sync with environmental change,” Keys said. “It doesn’t seem radical. It seems like it should have happened a long time ago.”
Aptos resident Barry Scott — who recorded the procession down the train tracks in front of the village and helped to start chants such as “Transportation justice!” and “No redlining!” — is passionate about using those changing policies and funding efforts under the Biden administration.
“This is an educational effort,” he said of Wednesday’s event. “People don’t read the business plan … it’s our job to get people interested and get people involved and use that moment. Absolutely it’s a look-at-me kind of event … we’re passionate about the messaging here too. This transportation justice is no joke. We are not kidding.”
Scott has been studying the main objections to the rail and trail alternative in an effort to support the grassroots organization. The idea that the county can’t afford the rail system, a complaint made by many RTC members in the past, can be debunked by the additional dollars going to equitable transportation through the current presidential direction, he said.
“This was feasible under Trump, it’s crazy right now,” Scott said. “It could be affordable. It will be electric, so it’s very clean … Opponents argue we don’t have the ridership. The business plan includes actually doing a careful ridership study … these ridership numbers are preliminary.”
Additionally, if Caltrans’ 2018 State Rail Plan funding, predicted to equal $140 billion for the next 20 years through federal, state, regional and private sourcing, goes unused by Santa Cruz County it will be used by other interested counties, Scott argued.
“We don’t get that back,” he said.
By Melissa Hartman
To read the original piece of Santa Cruz Sentinel click Rail and trail advocates rally in Aptos Village
A group of local transportation organizers is hoping that, within the span of a decade, a passenger rail will run from Watsonville to Santa Cruz, making stops at hubs where buses will whisk passengers to further destinations.
For commuters who wish to eschew motorized transportation in its entirety, a 32-mile bike and pedestrian path will run alongside the train tracks from Davenport to Watsonville.
This ambitious project is the vision of Friends of the Rail Trail (FORT), which launched Coast Connect, a group tasked with drumming up community interest and support for the project, on June 24.
The rail-trail project would provide an economical way to get to work and reduce traffic, and take a chunk out of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than half of which comes from vehicles, said FORT Board Chair Sally Arnold.
The project, described by supporters as a “complete transportation solution,” could also make cross-county day trips possible for residents, further bolstering the economy, Arnold says.
“Our primary purpose is to help people envision what life could be like if we had a rail-trail service,” she said. “It’s going to make life better for people in the community and it’s going to help the economy.”
FORT has been working to make a bike and pedestrian path next to the rail line since 2002, a project that rail supporters say could connect the Central Coast to the greater Bay Area transportation infrastructure and, by extension, to the rest of the world.
With 20 separate segments of trail stretching throughout the county, each jurisdiction will be responsible for their sections of the trail. In places, that work has already begun.
In Watsonville, a stretch that runs from Lee Road to Ohlone Parkway is slated to open in the fall.
“Not only does the rail line provide our local economy and companies and provide hundreds of jobs, but I’m really excited that it can also bring passenger rail on that very same line,” Watsonville City Councilman Felipe Hernandez said. “Let’s start now, planning now for a solution that truly includes Watsonville with high-quality passenger rail transit.”
In Santa Cruz, a one-mile stretch of trail from Bay Avenue to Natural Bridges Drive is expected to be completed by September.
The trail is slated to be complete by 2030, and the rail line will soon follow, organizers say.
And the plan has largely been greenlighted.
The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) in 2018 approved a plan to allow Lakeville, Minn.-based Progressive Rail, Inc. to take over the rail-freight operations in South County. The company’s plans at the time included possible passenger service.
A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge rejected a legal challenge to the company’s contract in 2019.
The RTC is now mulling options for what the rail line will look like, and will present the best option to the public in September.
The project also has its detractors, including the groups Santa Cruz County Greenway and Trail Now, both of which hope to see the tracks replaced in their entirety with a bicycle and pedestrian path.
Trail Now Executive Director Brian Peoples says that the county’s system of tracks and aging trestles is not equipped to handle the estimated 60 trains per day traveling 45 miles per hour.
Peoples also says that the rail line is not wide enough to safely hold a train and trail.
“We think the trail is a waste of time and money,” said Peoples, who envisions a future when not rail, but legions of people on foot and bicycle—and a fleet of pedicabs—helps to reduce traffic and lessen greenhouse gasses.
The passenger rail service portion of the project will cost an estimated $325 million. It is funded by Measure D, the 2016 half-cent sales tax created to fund countywide transportation projects, which provides about $1.6 million per year for infrastructure preservation of the rail corridor. In addition, the State Rail Plan identifies $1.5 Billion for projects in the Central Coast area, some of which will be allocated for the project.
The rail-trail will cost $283 million, and will also be funded by Measure D, as well as a mix of state and federal funding. Funding for both portions of the project will also come from donations and local matching funds.
FORT member Mark Mesiti Miller pointed to the fact that the Regional Transportation Commission, in a rare unanimous vote, showed its support for the rail-trail project.
“This project will change the way people get around forever,” Miller said.
By Todd Guild
To read the original piece on Goodtimes click Coast Connect Project Aims to Build Support for Rail Trail.
Press coverage of the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail & Trail and the Coast Connect vision.