Rail and Trail Frequently Asked Questions

Rail and Trail Frequently Asked Questions

Please see the Rail Transit Study page or the MBSST/Rail Trail page for more details

  1. Why did the RTC acquire the rail corridor for the community?
  2. Why utilize the rail corridor for short and long term transportation options?
  3. What is the Rail Trail and Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (MBSST)?
  4. What type of rail service is in the corridor at this time?
  5. What decisions have been made about rail/transit on the Rail Corridor?
  6. Is the Rail corridor wide enough for multi-use by bicycle/pedestrians and rail/transit?
  7. What has been done to determine the rail corridor width in relation to trail design?
  8. How wide will the trail be?
  9. What happens when the trail crosses streets?
  10. Will the tracks need to move to accommodate the trail?
  11. Will it take longer to build a trail in the rail corridor if it is shared with other uses?
  12. Will the existing bridges in the rail corridor be shared with the trail?
  13. What kind of funding will be used to build the trail?
  14. Legally, could a “trail only” option be pursued in the rail corridor?
  15. Why wasn’t a “trail only” option analyzed in the Trail Master Plan?
  16. Is Rail/Transit included in the upcoming transportation investment ballot measure?
  17. How does the rail corridor factor into our future?
  18. Realistically, what will be our future travel options?
  19. What are the next steps in determining whether rail/transit should be pursues locally?
  20. What are population growth projections based on?
  21. Will a trail or rail/transit “solve” congestion?
  22. Is all transportation “subsidized”?

 

Background

1. Why did the RTC acquire the rail corridor for the community? [back to top]

For over a decade, the RTC worked to bring this transportation corridor into public ownership to expand transportation options for everyone in the community now and into the future. 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. A Master Plan for a bicycle and pedestrian trail has already been completed and some limited seasonal recreational service and freight service currently exist. Additional service and uses will be considered carefully and implemented if and when the RTC decides it is feasible and funding is available. Many in the community are looking forward to the rail trail project as an off-street alternative to get around by walking or biking. In addition, the RTC is committed to considering the needs of those that can’t get around by human power or who travel longer distances and is committed to maintaining as many options for the future as possible.

2. Why utilize the rail corridor for short and long term transportation options? [back to top]

The rail line is located along the most heavily traveled sections of Santa Cruz County, connecting Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Capitola, Aptos/Seacliff, and Watsonville. The corridor can be used to:

  • provide quality bicycle, walking and transit options
  • provide faster transit and reliable travel time options for people who cannot drive
  • reduce both vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions
  • advance sustainable transportation options;
  • provide equitable transportation options for long distance travelers and people with reduced physical abilities
  • provide an alternative to congested highways with reliable travel times
  • provide recreational train service supporting our local economy– such as special event, holiday and summer service
  • reduce the number of cars and trucks on our roads and how long it takes to get places, by moving goods and people efficiently

3. What is the Rail Trail and Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (MBSST)? [back to top]

The Coastal Rail Trail is a paved bicycle and walking path to be constructed within the 32-mile Santa Cruz Rail Line corridor between Davenport and Watsonville/Pajaro. The Rail Trail is part of the larger Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (MBSST), which follows the coast of Santa Cruz County from the San Mateo county line to Pacific Grove in Monterey County. The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Master Plan describes the trail system planned for Santa Cruz County.

4. What type of rail service is in the corridor at this time? [back to top]

The Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line corridor is currently used by trains carrying farm and other products from Santa Cruz County to other parts of the state and nation, as well as recreational trains supporting our local economy– such as holiday and summer trains. The RTC has also looked at options for using the corridor to provide transit service between Santa Cruz and Watsonville. Trains have used the corridor since the 1875 and continued use of the tracks is protected under federal laws.

5. What decisions have been made about rail/transit on the Rail Corridor? [back to top]

The RTC conducted a Rail Transit Study with an extensive public engagement process. No determination was made to start train service, or any of the details regarding train service type, vehicle technology or frequency of service if such service were to begin. The RTC committed to explore public rail transit options in greater depth at a future date through a full environmental analysis. Keeping reliable travel options open for the future is sound policy and paramount to providing mobility for all, regardless of ability or travel distance.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Rail-with-Trail

 

6. Is the Rail corridor wide enough for multi-use by bicycles/pedestrians and rail/transit? [back to top]

Yes, the existing rail right-of-way is wide enough to include both the trail and rail. Twenty-five (25) feet of width is the bare minimum needed for a train and trail to co-exist as discussed in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network Master Plan. 17 feet is the minimum for the train’s operational envelope and 8 feet is the minimum needed for a trail. Approximately 1/3 of a mile of the right-of-way, spread out in small areas over the 32-mile corridor, is narrower than the minimum width and design solutions have been identified. Solutions to other challenges will be developed further as segments are funded and designed. 96% of the trail will have a usable width of 12 feet or more which includes 2 foot shoulders on each side.

7. What has been done to determine the rail corridor width in relation to trail design? [back to top]

Railroad valuation maps* serve as the basis of determining the width of the rail property for planning purposes. A chart and map on the Coastal Rail Trail website summarizes section-by-section widths that will be utilized for the trail project. Keep in mind that width evaluations are based on planning level right-of-way maps and not field surveys. The final right-of-way evaluations will be performed as each segment is funded, surveyed, fully engineered and constructed. (* Railroad Valuation Maps were originally required by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission and generally consist of documents developed by the railroad to inventory right-of-way, track layout, curvature, building and structure locations, etc..)

8. How wide will the trail be? [back to top]

The multi-use path is being designed to a Caltrans defined 12-foot standard minimum which includes an 8-foot paved portion and 2-foot paved or unpaved buffers on each side. A typical bike lane is 4-5 feet (two way would total 8-10 feet), enough for two riders to ride side by side. A typical sidewalk is approximately 4 feet. The trail will be wider than 12 feet where room is available. Given natural and physical limitations, the trail may have to be built to the absolute minimum width of 8 feet for a total of approximately 1/3 of a mile. These constricted points are located at various short distances throughout the network and are not concentrated in any one area or stretch. Solutions have been identified. Planning level width data calculations for the rail trail project are available on the RTC’s website and demonstrate that 96% of the trail project will be 12 feet or wider which includes the trail and usable shoulder.

9. What happens with the trail at street crossings? [back to top]

The Master Plan provides street crossing designs, both typical and customized for more complicated crossings. Specific configurations would be determined as segments are funded and move toward construction.

10. Will the tracks need to move to accommodate the trail? [back to top]

In a 1 mile stretch near Jade Street Park the tracks would need to be moved over in order to accommodate the trail. The cost for the tracks to be relocated is factored into the cost for this segment (Segment #10 in the Master Plan).

11. Will it take longer to build a trail in the rail corridor if it is shared with other uses? [back to top]

Not likely. Already 8 miles of the trail are in design and environmental review, with construction scheduled to begin in 2017. Because trail planning and environmental review was finished for the full 32-mile rail corridor via the Master Plan, design and construction of sections of the trail can proceed as funding is available. If something other than what is outlined in the Master Plan is pursued, it could actually take longer or be subject to legal action.

12. Will the existing bridges in the rail corridor be shared with the trail? [back to top]

Mostly no. The Trail Master Plan includes estimated costs for 23 new bridge structures and one cantilevered bridge, with the exception of the bridge over Capitola Village. Additionally, in one instance, a bike and pedestrian bridge will be cantilevered off the existing rail bridge. New bridges are expected to be similar in style to the pre-fabricated bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the San Lorenzo River near Highway 1 and River Street (Cost Plus/Ross/PetSmart/OfficeMax complex).

13. What kind of funding will be used to build the trail? [back to top]

A combination of federal, state, local, and private funds will be used to build the trail. The RTC and local jurisdictions have successfully secured grants for approximately 25% of the length of the trail based on the trail concept outlined in the Master Plan. The generous matching donations secured by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Friends of the Rail & Trail, Ecology Action, and Bike Santa Cruz County have greatly contributed to that success. Additionally, if approved by voters, approximately $68 million would be available from a November 2016 transportation investment ballot measure to construct the majority of the trail and help secure grants to construct the rest.

14. Legally, could a “trail only” option be pursued in the rail corridor? [back to top]

The rail corridor was purchased using voter-approved Proposition 116 funds for “intercity passenger rail projects connecting the City of Santa Cruz with the Watsonville Junction” or “other rail projects within Santa Cruz County which facilitate recreational, commuter, intercity and intercounty travel.” Here’s a link to the ballot measure. The California Transportation Commission clarified in a 9/8/15 letter that a bicycle and pedestrian trail or a trail and bus combo is not considered a rail project under Proposition 116, and that those uses would require repayment of the $11m used to purchase the corridor. However, while such an action would be technically legal, it would signal a reversal of publically-determined policy established over the past decade that includes offering transportation choices to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Before considering a major change in policy, the RTC is conducting the Unified Corridor Investment Study to look at transportation options for the corridor. Performance metrics will be incorporated into the analysis of various scenarios, at least one of which will include a “trail only” approach.

15. Why wasn’t a “trail only” option analyzed in the Trail Master Plan? [back to top]

As part of the environmental document for the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (Coastal Rail Trail) Master Plan, the Regional Transportation Commissioners unanimously decided in February, 2013, not to include study of a “trail only” option. After careful consideration, the RTC reaffirmed their original intent of acquiring the rail corridor which was to expand transportation options for the community – for now and into the future – including freight rail (goods movement), passenger rail (transit and recreational) and a bicycle/pedestrian trail.

What about the future?

 

16. Is Rail/Transit included in the upcoming transportation investment ballot measure? [back to top]

The ballot measure does not include funding for rail transit service. It does include a small amount of funding to conduct environmental analysis and engineering work necessary to answer important questions that have been raised by the community about rail transit options. The Rail Transit Study was an initial step in assessing transit options for the rail corridor. The environmental analysis is expected to take several years and involve lots of public participation. Only after all that will a decision be made with respect to a wide range of passenger rail options (vehicle type, frequency, etc). And if the decision were in favor of some kind of publicly-funded rail service, a funding source would have to be identified. Please see this webpage for more information about the Transportation Investment Plan ballot measure .

17. How does the rail corridor factor into our future? [back to top]

While we already experience significant traffic congestion in Santa Cruz County and need safe and reliable transportation options that are accessible to all residents and reduce air pollution, our transportation mobility needs will grow in the future. Planning a robust network of safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities and preserving the rail corridor for reliable transit service is planning for our future. Our community needs to take into account everyone’s mobility needs for the long term, regardless of age, income, ability and distance traveled. The corridor is a valuable, continuous transportation resource that if lost could never be recovered. Lessons learned from losing the rail corridor that once carried people over the Santa Cruz Mountains remind us that it’s premature to eliminate the option to use the rail corridor for transit service some day. More transportation options are needed, not less.

18. Realistically, what will be our future travel options? [back to top]

Due to the county’s physical constraints, there are few ways for people to travel in the county, as evidenced by traffic congestion on Highway 1 and local roads. To prepare for the mobility needs of our community well into the future, it is practical to plan viable rail or transit options for people traveling to work, school, recreation and other places. While technological advances in self-driving cars are rapid, transit is an important option for people with limited mobility, people that cannot bike or walk, and people traveling longer distances and want reliable travel times. The cost of future travel options is also a key factor, including the cost for projects in the Highway 1 corridor.

19. What are the next steps in determining whether rail/transit should be pursued locally? [back to top]

There are many more steps of environmental and engineering analysis before a decision is made about the type of transit vehicle technology, and frequency/type of service.

20. What are population growth projections based on? [back to top]

The County of Santa Cruz has been growing at a slow pace and is projected to continue growing slowly. The Association for Monterey Bay Area Governments – the entity that both tracks and forecasts population, employment and residential trends for the three-county region – indicates that our county will grow by about 30,000 more people in the next 20 years. Growth management policies already in place will have the long term effect of more compact infill, less sprawl and preservation of agricultural land.

21. Will a trail or rail/transit “solve” congestion? [back to top]

Not likely. Congestion is not unusual in our region and around the state, the nation, and the world. Some degree of congestion will occur at times on Highway 1 no matter what we do, but the actions we take, or don’t take, can make it better or worse. The number of people walking or biking on the rail trail will have limited impact on Highway 1 congestion. Whether transit rail, if we decide in the future to implement that, would have significant impact on congestion would depend on what level and kind of service provided. However, riding transit, biking, or walking has many other benefits for the community. The trail can encourage use of healthy, active transportation, and rail/transit can provide a travel option that has reliable travel times, something currently challenging for Highway 1 drivers and bus riders.

22. Is all transportation “subsidized?” [back to top]

No form of transportation is self-supporting. Roads, highways, buses, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and rail are all financed by taxes and fees paid by the public. Fuel taxes currently pay for only about half of the cost of streets and highways. Similarly financed is the work of maintaining infrastructure (such as roads and sidewalks), safety and enforcement programs, parking, pollution clean-up, etc. Transportation is considered a community resource with costs borne in significant part by society.

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