Forget the Rail, Trail is the Way to Go Now
By Brian Peoples
It has been a decade since the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission bought the Santa Cruz Branch Line. But reserving the rail corridor for a train is preventing the construction of a world-class Santa Cruz Coastal Trail.
10 reasons why the Santa Cruz Coastal Trail should be built NOW:
- Never-Ending Costly Studies. three train studies conducted over the last five years and costing $2.5 million have proven that a train would not reduce traffic, would cost over $1 billion and would increase adjacent surface-street traffic and congestion.
- Legal Restrictions. Federal guidelines require that any trail built next to a commuter train be separated at least 25 feet from train tracks. The Santa Cruz rail corridor from Santa Cruz to Manresa Beach is only 27 feet wide, making it legally impossible to accommodate both a commuter train and trail.
- Rail banking is possible now. After 10 years, the SCCRTC has acknowledged that rail banking is both legal and possible for the Santa Cruz Coastal Trail. That is covering the tracks and using them at a future, more affordable and necessary time. Rail banking guarantees important federal funding for so-called “takings” lawsuits, where the government can take back the money it paid for rail. If the rail corridor is not rail banked, the cost and liability for adjacent property owner lawsuits falls on Santa Cruz County taxpayers.
- Increased Traffic and Congestion. The current train and trail plan diverts the trail to surface-streets for 35 percent of the corridor (12.5 miles), all of which is located in the most populated and busiest sections of Santa Cruz County, including downtown Capitola.
- Historic Train Trestles. There are over 20 train trestles along the corridor, some of which like Capitola’s are historic. These decaying trestles would have to be replaced with concrete trestles in order to safely transport the planned 60 trains a day travelling 45 mph. Tearing down historic trestles to be replaced by concrete trestles tugs at the heart of Santa Cruz County residents, who are so very proud of our heritage and history.
- The Environment. As avid environmentalists, Santa Cruz County residents are continuously concerned about changes to the existing landscape that have a longterm negative effect on the environment. Since the tracks run within 20 feet of the Pacific Ocean, “sea-level-rising” mitigation plans make train travel financially and environmentally unfeasible. At the same time, the current plan results in hundreds of heritage oak trees being cut down and millions of cubic feet of earth moved to create a tunnel of concrete retaining walls.
- Cost Prohibitive. Building a trail adjacent to train tracks is not affordable. The Santa Cruz Westside trail segment was selected as the first section to build because it was viewed as the least expensive. Yet, in reality, the cost to build this section has been outrageously expensive–$10 million per mile as compared to the $2 million average national cost of building rail-to-trails.
- Safety. The proposed operational plan is to run 60 trains a day, travelling 45 mph, through our neighborhoods, many of which are quiet residential areas. We can unfortunately cite horrific statistics, including one example coming from the Marin/Sonoma SMART train–which has had 11 people killed in the last 2 years by speeding trains through neighborhoods. We shudder at the thought of having 60 trains a day travelling through Aptos Village.
- Transportation Trail. One of the studies completed, the Unified Corridor Study, included statistics that indicated a trail would have 800 users/HOUR. Studies by Nelson Nygaard and Alta Planning and Design, two of the most reputable transportation consultants in the U.S. have indicated that a wide multi-use trail will carry more commuters than a train at a fraction of the cost.
- Passenger Train Fares. Rail transit is not affordable for low income commuters. Passenger roundtrip tickets would cost $20 per day for a short 12-mile ride.