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 central spine of the full regional trail network described in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Final Master Plan.
The Rail Trail is being built now! Segments 7 and 18 are currently open to the public, with over 50% of the trail slated for construction in the next few years, this dream is coming to life!
For more information on the trail, also see the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) Project Website. Do you want to be notified on trail 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 a 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.
Zero Emission Light Rail
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:
Electric Light Rail Found to be the Best Option for Santa Cruz County Transportation Needs
The RTC completed the Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis (TCAA) study to choose a transit option for the rail corridor between Watsonville and Santa Cruz in 2021. The study assessed each transit alternative by scoring how it measured against our county goals for Economy, Equity, and the Environment.
The TCAA found that:
Investing in Rail is Planning for the Future
The Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG), our regional planning agency, projects that by 2045, another 107,500 people will likely live in the Greater Monterey Bay Area Region*. The region is also forecasted to create nearly 42,000 new homes and more than 65,000 new jobs.
To fund the Sustainable Communities projects, AMBAG projects that about 5 Billion dollars between now and then will be allocated to sustainable housing and transportation in Santa Cruz County. In the long term, this is more than enough to pay for the rail and trail project. In the short term, we are optimistic that the newly-increased federal and state commitments to rail infrastructure will produce opportunities for grant funding. To learn more, go to the AMBAG 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan & the Sustainable Communities Strategy. To see the funding projections for Santa Cruz County Sustainable Communities projects, go to page 16 of the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy Public Workshop Presentation.
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.
Threats to Rail & Trail Completion
In July 2021 Greenway announced their intent to start collecting signatures for a countywide ballot initiative that will delay our trail and prevent rail transit from ever being planned in Santa Cruz County.
In much the same way as the auto industry dismantled public transportation in LA, this deceiving ballot initiative could delay the construction of the trail and also stops all planning for rail service in the county.
This is a devastating one-two punch against a beloved county project. We urge the community not to sign this petition and to contact your supervisor to register your support for continuing with the Rail & Trail plan.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is Coast Connect related to Santa Cruz County Friends of Rail & Trail?
Coast Connect is a campaign powered by Santa Cruz County Friends of Santa Cruz Rail & Trail (FORT), a local nonprofit that has advocated since 2002 to serve and connect our entire county via an inclusive 32-mile paved bike trail from Davenport to Watsonville and adjacent passenger rail transit running from the City of Santa Cruz to Watsonville Junction in Pajaro.
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. 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, with rail systems being seven times more energy efficient than buses, while buses are much more efficient than cars. 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.
If I have questions or want to learn more about the rail and/or trail, who can I send them to?
Please send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.