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Rail Issues

The video at the right (or below if you're using a mobile device) is the first of twelve—a playlist—taken from the set of 32 made by Dave Wright of Friends of the Rail & Trail on December 1, 2011. (All 32 of Dave's videos are posted on the Friends of the Rail & Trail website.)

Cliff Walters drove the train. The camera was mounted on the front of a flat car in front of the engine. You may notice that at some street crossings (e.g., at the Seabright Avenue crossing in Milepost 19-20), the train stops and a flagman (Wes Swift) walks into the intersection to stop the traffic, since the gate fails to function. (This happens when the tracks are rusty. After the train runs over the tracks the gates work fine again.)

About our header photos:

All but the first one were taken in 2012 along the Santa Cruz Branch Line by Howard Cohen, also known as “1TrickPony”.

The RTC completes Rail Corridor purchase

On October 12, 2012, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, completing a process that has lasted for over two decades, closed escrow on the purchase of the 31-mile Santa Cruz Branch Line from Union Pacific. Here is a report posted on the RTC's website.

The mood was celebratory, and over the weekend of November 16-18, a number of events took place, with crowds of appreciative folks showing up. Sandy Lydon provided a fine lecture on the railroad history in our county to a packed hall at Cabrillo. We now have our own Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railway, with trains operated by Iowa Pacific Holdings.

The first train runs—recreational trains running every hour from our Boardwalk up the coast a few miles on selected afternoons—used a loud and somewhat disagreeable single-tone horn. There were complaints, and as a result, Iowa Pacific installed a three-tone “Leslie S-3L” classic train whistle on the train. It plays (more or less) an A-minor chord. Here is a recording of it:

Iowa Pacific has provided explanations of horns and whistles, along with an opportunity for your comments here.

Freight service is now being provided on the line, particularly in its southern section. The La Selva trestle reconstruction was completed in February, 2015, allowing access to the north of that trestle, and seasonal recreational trains are now regularly running.

Can this rail line provide passenger service?

One key issue concerns whether population densities along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line are high enough to support passenger rail service along the line. The answer is yes. Also, the corridor passes within one mile (Per 2010 census tract data) of 50% of the county's population, over 80 parks and 25 schools. To find out more, have a look at our new Population density map.

A promising development—likely to occur prior to the provision of true passenger service—will be the construction of a “rail trail” for bicylists and pedestrians, adjacent to the tracks—part of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network. For more information, see this page on our Regional Transportation Commission's website.

As of June, 2014, there were 217 rails-with-trails in the United States (including 32 in California), totaling more than 2,200 miles, and more are being built each year. They are very popular. For a detailed list of rails-with-trails, see this pdf on the website of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.