The Coastal Rail Trail is Being Built Now
Eighteen miles of trail are in development. Below is the status of the 18 segments from Davenport to Watsonville.
Segment 5 – Davenport to Wilder Ranch
Status: Fully funded. Construction estimated to start in 2025
Also called the "North Reach," when complete this path will stretch 7.5 miles between Davenport and Wilder Ranch with stunning coastal views and connections to bluffs, beaches and miles of mountain trails.
It will provide access to the 19 miles of new hiking, biking, horseback riding, and ADA-accessible trails currently being built in the Coast-Cotoni Dairies National Monument.
This project includes new parking lots in Davenport and at Panther / Yellowbank Beach, restrooms, improved access to the parking lot at Bonny Doon Beach and a pedestrian crossing in Davenport
Segment 7 – Natural Bridges Drive to Santa Cruz Wharf
Status: Phase I complete, Phase II under construction now. Estimated time of completion is early 2024
Completed in December of 2020, the Phase I part of the trail provides access to numerous businesses and attractions on the Westside while connecting the Wilder Path paved trail through the Westside to Bay and California Streets.
Phase II: Running from Bay and California streets to the roundabout in front of the Santa Cruz wharf, this section of trail will give people on the Westside a safer route to the beach and beyond. It will give people in the Seabright, beach, and downtown neighborhoods access to the Westside and beyond to Wilder Ranch.
Segment 8 – Santa Cruz Wharf to San Lorenzo River
Status: San Lorenzo Bridge section completed in 2019. Safety and flow improvements funded.
Segment 8 is complete and in use in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and includes the new, award winning, cantilevered bike and pedestrian bridge across the San Lorenzo River.
Funding for this segment will improve on the existing bike and walking pathway and sidewalk along Beach Street. The redesign of this segment increases the width of the current pedestrian sidewalk and removes some parking currently adjacent to the bike path.
Segment 9 – San Lorenzo River to 17th Avenue
Status: Construction funded
Segment 9 goes from the San Lorenzo River to 17th Avenue. It passes through the Seabright neighborhood, crosses the Yacht Harbor with a new bike and pedestrian bridge bypassing the Murray Street bridge, and continues along the rail corridor behind Twin Lakes State Beach and Simpkins Swim Center, emerging at the corner of the Simpkins Swim Center driveway and 17th Avenue.
This exciting segment will create a brand new, direct route between Santa Cruz and Live Oak for bikes and pedestrians. Dramatically shorter and safer than the existing on-street infrastructure, the trail will be about 1.6 miles, in comparison with the 2 mile on-street route. Even better, it will safely bypass the Murray Street car bridge and the narrow, steep section of road around the ocean side of Twin Lakes State Beach, which has minimal bike lanes and no sidewalk.
Segment 10 – 17th Avenue to Capitola
Status: Construction funded
Segment 10 reaches from 17th Avenue to Jade Street Park in Capitola. Starting at Simpkins Swim Center, the trail will cross Rodeo Creek Gulch on a new bike and pedestrian bridge, cross 38th Avenue just a few blocks from the planned new mixed-use residential and retail development at the Capitola Mall and continue to Jade Street Park. It will give residents and visitors a brand new, safe and protected way to get between densely-populated Live Oak and busy Capitola.
Segment 11 – Capitola to State Park Drive
Status: Construction funded
Segment 11 stretches from Jade Street Park in Capitola all the way to State Park Drive in Aptos. Recent grants fund all of Segment 11 except for the Capitola Trestle village overcrossing. The newly-funded trail picks back up on the other side of the Capitola Trestle and goes to Park Avenue, then New Brighton State Beach, continuing all the way to State Park Drive in Aptos. Planning for a Capitola Village bike and pedestrian overcrossing bridge is included in the engineering study for Passenger Rail, approved December of 2022.
Segment 12 – State Park Drive to Rio Del Mar Blvd
Status: Environmental phase
Beginning at State Park Drive, this segment will include two new pedestrian and biking bridges over Highway 1 allowing easy, car free travel from Aptos Village to the ocean and nearby Seacliff and New Brighton State beaches and Rio Del Mar.
Environmental, right of way, and design work is scheduled to be completed soon, and pending funding availability, could go to construction by 2025.
Segments 13 to 17 – Rio Del Mar Blvd to Lee Road
Status: Design phase
A consulting firm has been hired to design these segments which will cross through the open space and farmland between Aptos and Watsonville. These trail segments will provide access to Seascape resort, La Selva Beach, Manresa State Beach and provide stunning views of Monterey Bay.
Segment 18 – Watsonville, Lee Road to Walker Street
Status: Phase I complete, Phase II awaiting funding
Construction on Phase 1 was completed in the Spring of 2021 and spans a one mile segment between Ohlone Parkway and a trail entrance to the Watsonville Slough wetlands offering seven miles of scenic trails over 800 acres.
Phase II will extend the existing trail to Lee Road to the South and Walker Road to the North terminating one block from the Watsonville Transit Center.
Vision & Plan for Rail
Electric Light Rail Service Planning Happening Now
The engineering and design for rail transit between Santa Cruz and Watsonville is getting started now.
History of the Passenger Rail Project
Santa Cruz County purchased the Santa Cruz Branch Line in 2012 with the vision to provide passenger rail service from Watsonville to Santa Cruz with a walking and biking trail alongside. This new public transportation service is a part of the state rail plan and will connect to Monterey as well as the entire state and national rail network through a new link from Pajaro to Gilroy. In addition to reducing local traffic and improving neighborhood safety, this service will offer greatly reduced commute times at a fraction of the cost of car ownership for the 70,000 people who commute within our county. Read more.
Get Involved in Designing Our Electric Rail Service
Do you want to stay updated as the rail service design unfolds? Want to know when you can get involved with design details or reducing project impacts? Make sure you’re signed up for our emails so we can keep you in the know!
Have you ever wanted to know ‘Where will my rail stop be?’ or ‘How often will the trains run?’ or even ‘Who is going to be in charge of the rail system?’ To move forward with the rail project, the RTC needs to answer these kinds of questions. On December 1st 2022, thanks to overwhelming community support, the Regional Transportation Committee voted 11-1 to approve a contract with HDR Engineering, Inc. for professional engineering and environmental services for the electric passenger rail transit & trail project.
HDR will be doing this Preliminary Engineering and Environmental Documentation project. This large and detailed study and design project explores the nitty gritty of how the rail service would be built and how it would work. There will be community feedback opportunities as part of this process. Sign up with Friends of the Rail & Trail to stay in the loop. Click here to tell the Regional Transportation Commission you support the project.
Benefits to our Community
1. Rail and Trail are Better Together.
Rail and trail together will provide both active transportation and public transportation. A win-win for all. The award-winning and approved Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (MBSST) plan maps out a rail trail next to the tracks. This plan shows we can have both an improved transportation system with electric rail and a fantastic new rail trail that goes around the bay. The rail and trail project has already gone through extensive legal and environmental review with rail alongside, and portions of the rail trail have already been completed. Lets keep the momentum going!
2. Adding Rail is about Investing in Public Transportation.
Clean light rail will cut commute times nearly in half by providing commuters with an alternative to Highway 1, allowing commuters more time with their families. Those who live in South County communities in and around Watsonville spend up to 90 minutes or more each way getting to and from work. These mostly essential workers need a better way to their North County jobs. In fact, we all need an alternative to being stuck in traffic, regardless of the reason.
3. Adding Rail is a Climate Action.
Historically, 60% of our county’s GHG emissions are transportation-related. Adding zero emission light rail is the most effective thing we can do to reduce them. The most recent study by the RTC indicated that adding rail in addition to the rail trail will reduce GHG emissions by 1482 metric tons annually, the equivalent of planting 24,500 trees and growing them for 10 years every year, year after year. That’s a huge reduction in GHG emissions that we can achieve with just this one project! There are no other transportation projects in Santa Cruz County that come close to this number.
4. Rail Enhances our METRO Service and Provides Car-free Options for All.
About one third of our county residents, including seniors, youth, and people with disabilities, cannot easily get around our community because they do not drive. These people rely on public transportation. Whether you are unable to drive or prefer not to drive, adding passenger rail will make car-free travel faster, easier and less expensive. In fact, adding clean light rail next to the rail trail is projected to increase county-wide public transportation use to 250% of pre-pandemic levels which helps the long term health of METRO (more riders on every bus!). With easy roll on & off convenience, light rail provides better options than the walking and biking rail trail alone, enabling independent travel for errands, shopping, medical appointments and moreº. As an added bonus, rail transit will be free of traffic congestion even during rush hour.
5. Rail Transit with the Rail Trail will create Safer Walkable Neighborhoods.
The traffic reduction achieved by adding electric rail transit is projected to reduce vehicle, bike and pedestrian accidents by 346 collisions every year. That’s almost one less collision every day! Plus, local businesses will enjoy more foot traffic, increased visibility and traffic-free transportation options during festivals and events. For a county with one of the worst pedestrian and cycling safety records in the state, making our neighborhoods safer will have a positive impact now and for generations to come.
6. This is a Regional Project.
Zero-emissions rail will seamlessly connect us to regional, state and national rail networks at the Watsonville Junction. Imagine “Around-the-Bay” car-free rail transit between Santa Cruz and Monterey and points in between. Imagine traveling stress free and car free between where you live and San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles or anywhere else in CA or the USA.
"I'm very excited about Coast Connect. Transportation options will give my employees and customers a stress free and stable commute."
- Emily Thomas
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery
"I believe that building a sustainable future, which includes public transportation, is our only choice if we are to have a future. Our end goal is simple: to ensure a livable planet for my generation and future generations to come; a planet for everybody."
Youth for Climate Justice
"I think that this would be a great benefit to out community. When we think about how we want to reduce our carbon emissions, and how we want to try and meet our climate action goals, this is one of the tools that can help use get there."
- Justin Cummings
"A trail is such a nice place to walk, just safe and comfortable, saying 'hi' to others and not worrying about cars. In terms of the train: boarding a train is such an easy thing for so many of us, whether a blind person trying to find a doorway or being able to have several passengers who use wheelchairs."
- Veroinca Elsea
"The RTC identified electric passenger rail as the preferred option transit for the rail corridor. Coast Futura presents a great example of what this could look like for our future. For me, this is about the importance of addressing climate change and transportation equity for our commuters."
- Sandy Brown
as RTC Chair
"The rail corridor exists, and we have a duty to future generations that high quality transit along it is possible."
- Michael Wool, Slugs for Coast Connect
"Access to mobility is the #1 determinant in an individual's ability to escape poverty. We need to provide transit options for those pushed outside of the city to ensure access to the higher paying jobs in Santa Cruz."
- Zennon Ulyat-Crow, Slugs for Coast Connect
"Public transit is the veins of cities, that connect and deliver the lifeblood of society. Transit is not only vital in terms of infrastructure, it is also vital in providing equity and access to all people, it is the main form of transport used around the world, and finally it is within our reach to have more sustainable and equitable public transit here in Santa Cruz County"
Watsonville City Council Member
Frequently Asked Questions
How is Coast Connect related to Santa Cruz County Friends of Rail & Trail?Coast Connect is a vision powered by Santa Cruz County Friends of Santa Cruz Rail & Trail (FORT) as well as many individuals, businesses and organizations sharing in a vision of safe streets and car free transportation options including rail, trails, and excellent bus service. Endorsing the Coast Connect vision is a way for us all to make our support for this vision clear.
What do you mean by “integrated transportation system”?We envision a transportation system that includes reliable eco-friendly electric passenger rail, a 32-mile rail trail connected with a neighborhood trail network, and safe streets built with room for people so we can walk, roll and ride freely. Bicycle lanes and sidewalks, rideshares, and synchronized bus-and-rail transfers will provide convenient safe connections to the places we’re going.
When is the trail going to get built?Construction began in 2019 and the entire trail should be completed by 2030.
Why can’t there just be a trail?After years of comprehensive study and public input, the RTC unanimously decided to move forward with a vision that includes both a trail and a transit system along the corridor because it will serve more people, increase equity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve our local economy. Further, easement access along the corridor is specifically established for a rail service. If the rail line were removed, landowners would certainly initiate expensive litigation, putting public access to the corridor at risk.
How will the rail and trail transportation vision be paid for?Local voter-approved Measure D funds are already allocated for a portion of this project. In addition, there is funding from the State of California available as part of the State Rail Plan and a variety of other future funding sources that could be explored and adopted to fund rail and other mobility improvements in our county.
Why should local businesses support Rail and Trail?A robust transportation system will create economic opportunities: Business opportunities will open up for new and existing companies. For existing businesses, reliable transportation options with defined schedules increase the likelihood that employees who commute across the county will get to work on time. Also, cross-county commuters are likely to see reduced commute times that result in a higher quality of life, and tourists can make their visit a car-free experience.
How will the Rail and Trail vision help Santa Cruz County combat climate change?The majority of the greenhouse gas emissions in Santa Cruz County are transportation-related. Public transportation reduces greenhouse gas emissions: buses are much more efficient than private cars and rail systems are seven times more efficient than buses. An integrated network combining bus, rail, complete streets and rideshares will let us leave our cars behind. New rail technologies are becoming available that could utilize carbon-free electricity provided by Monterey Bay Community Power.
How is the rail and trail vision equitable and accessible?Level-boarding passenger rail service running parallel to a wide, flat, and level trail provides independent transportation options to more people, including those with mobility challenges. A high-quality integrated transportation network with smooth transfers makes it easy for people to get to school and work without needing the expense of a car.
When the trail is completed, how long will it be?The 32-mile trail will run from Davenport to Watsonville along the existing rail line. It will be within 1 mile of 92 parks, 44 schools and half of the county’s population. The 22-mile passenger rail service will be offered between Watsonville and Santa Cruz.
Where will passenger rail go?Passenger rail will run next to the trail on the existing Santa Cruz Branch Line tracks, serving stops from Watsonville Station at Pajaro junction to the Westside of Santa Cruz and points between. It will connect to the regional rail network at Pajaro junction, providing access to Monterey, Salinas, Silicon Valley, and points beyond.
Will passenger rail be noisy?New technologies, such as battery-powered electric rail vehicles, have noise levels similar to a single car. Quiet zones eliminate the need for loud horns at crossings.
When do we get a trail?The trail is being built now! Checkout the completed portions on the Westside of Santa Cruz and in Watsonville. You can see the status of each section here: https://sccrtc.org/projects/multi-modal/monterey-bay-sanctuary-scenic-trail/
Will the train be electric?Yes! The TCAA Business Plan has determined that all the best options for the Santa Cruz Branch line are all electric. Modern electric trains are battery powered and don’t require overhead wires or third rails. With technology rapidly evolving, there may even be more electric options available to us when we implement service. Learn more about the various options available now here: Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis & Rail Network Integration Study
Will Passenger Rail service reduce traffic?Passenger rail service is projected to reduce traffic in our neighborhoods and will provide much faster commute times to anyone who takes it instead of driving Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis & Rail Network Integration Study. While HWY 1 is likely to remain highly impacted even if we widen it, rail service will offer a choice to those who want to avoid that congestion. We’re looking forward to safer neighborhood streets and the ability to choose to not sit in traffic by taking the train.
Wouldn’t widening the highway reduce congestion?Most studies show that adding more lanes actually increases traffic, especially on surface streets because it allows even more cars to travel. This phenomena is called ‘induced demand’ Here’s a great video explaining more. How highways make traffic worse.
How did we land on rail + trail as the best use for our Rail corridor?Rail & Trail is the community vision that led to our purchase of the Santa Cruz Branch rail line. The award winning Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (MBSST) master plan designed a trail to work in coordination with passenger rail service. This community choice was reaffirmed in 2016 when the Regional Transportation Commission did a study in 2016 called the Unified Corridor Study (UCS). The UCS studied all the main north-south corridors in the county and made recommendations for the best transportation uses. The UCS found that the best use of our rail corridor was for both public transportation and a multi-use trail alongside it. Then the Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis & Rail Network Integration Study found that Electric Rail Transit was the best choice for public transportation on the rail corridor.
How can we have frequent service with only one track?Single track rail lines use passing sidings. Sidings are places where a short amount of double track is built, usually at a station, in order to let trains pass each other. This allows more trains to be in service at a time. The RTC has planned for passing sidings in order to accommodate frequent service on our rail line. There is room for up to 5 passing sidings along our line, and there’s still space for the trail as well! Here’s a good video on how passing sidings work. Sidings make rail networks operate more efficiently.
Is the Rail & Trail plan environmentally friendly?Yes! The most recent study by the RTC indicated that adding electric rail will reduce GHG emissions by 1482 metric tons annually, the equivalent of planting 24,500 trees and growing them for 10 years every year, year after year. That’s a huge reduction in GHG emissions that we can achieve with just this one project! Since 60% of our county’s GHG emissions are transportation-related it’s really important that we implement transportation projects like light rail that will offer GHG reductions for the entire county.
What will the travel times be?Predicted travel times between destinations from the Rail Transit Feasibility Study are: Watsonville – Santa Cruz 40 minutes; Aptos Village – Santa Cruz 18 minutes; Capitola Village – Santa Cruz 11 minutes. And these times are constant, regardless of time of day, regardless of commute traffic!
Will we need additional parking?The best transportation planners tell us that the key to a great transit system isn’t parking, it’s accessibility and reliability. For our county, the best system is a combination of rail and metro service. When we combine rail service (known for its reliability and its ability to move more people faster along the most crowded routes i.e. North-South through our County) and METRO/PARACRUZ service to neighborhoods not within walking distance of the line we create a transit system which one can use with-out ever getting in your car. Want to create an even better system? Add improved walking and biking infrastructure, to give everyone more options to walk and roll the short distances. Win-win-win.
Does rail service replace our Metro service?No! Light Rail and Metro will work together to create a full transit system. In fact, adding light rail is projected to increase county-wide public transportation use to 250% of pre-pandemic levels which helps the long term health of METRO (more riders on buses!). This is because we increase the reliability and accessibility of our most important transit route (North-South along the coast). This improvement in service allows all other routes to be more efficient and enjoy higher ridership as well.
What will stations look like?Many stations will be very small, much like a regular bus stop, while some may be larger to incorporate passings. This will be determined with community input and will take the available space into consideration.
Will I be able to get to campus?Yes! We are advocating for dedicated and fully synchronized bus service that will run directly from the rail line to both Cabrillo and UCSC as well as pedestrian and bike improvements connecting both campuses to the rail line and surrounding neighborhoods.
Will this plan raise my taxes?You are already paying taxes into state and federal infrastructure funds. Our rail and trail projects are an opportunity to bring that money home for our benefit locally. If we don’t have a local rail project, there are other communities that will happily use our tax dollars to fund their systems. If we find that the state, federal, and existing local funds are inadequate to fully fund our projects, we can discuss what ways we might raise a local contribution. That will be a community decision.
Do we have enough transit riders to support rail transit?Our corridor is ideally positioned to be a highly used railway, specifically because of our density and concentration of businesses along the corridor is what so many cities wish for when looking to implement commuter rail. Most cities end up having to invest significant funds restructuring development around new commuter rail lines, which we do not need to do. Over the past years, the options for low emission green quiet light rail have only improved and increased as traffic has only worsened. Most cities end up having to invest significant funds restructuring development around new commuter rail lines, which we do not need to do. Over the past years, the options for low emission green quiet light rail have only improved and increased as traffic has only worsened.
How many people in the county support rail transit?In a recent survey done by a third party polling firm FM3, 74% of active voters in Santa Cruz County support passenger rail transit on our Santa Cruz County Branch line. This was further confirmed by the 2022 vote, with Santa Cruz County voting down