Rail Transit Study Frequently Asked Questions

Rail Transit Study Frequently Asked Questions

Please see the project web page for more details. Note that the comment period closed July 31, 2015.

  1. Why consider Rail Transit in Santa Cruz County?
  2. How long would it take to get places by train? 
  3. How much does Rail Transit cost?
  4. How would public rail transit be funded and would it (and other public transit) pay for itself?
  5. How many people would ride the train?
  6. Is it possible to run natural gas or electric powered trains instead of diesel?
  7. What would stations look like and will parking be provided?
  8. Is there enough room in the rail corridor property for both a trail and train?
  9. Can the train tracks be removed to make a bicycle/pedestrian only trail?
  10. What kind of noise is associated with Rail Transit?
  11. What type of service is recommended in the Final Study?
  12. Why allow freight trains on the line?
  13. What’s the potential to run utilities in the rail corridor?

 

  1. Why consider Rail Transit in Santa Cruz County? [back to top]
    • The Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line spans the most populated and congested travel corridors in Santa Cruz County, paralleling Highway 1 and in the proximity of many major destinations within Santa Cruz County.Approximately 50% of the Santa Cruz County population currently lives within 1 mile of the rail line. The county’s population is expected to grow another 37,000 by 2035.
    • There is significant public interest in having more options for getting around, alternatives to congested roadways, living and working in areas that are walkable/transit-oriented, and preserving open space/limiting sprawl.
    • State requirements mandate reductions in both the number of miles people drive and greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Interest in increasing the percentage of trips taken by transit and reducing automobile-related infrastructure
    • Rail can be scaled up or down with minimal new infrastructure.
    • Future regional and state rail services will stop at or near the Pajaro Station.
    • Current data helps the community have an informed discussion about benefits and considerations of this possible transportation investment.
    • Need to consider transportation options for the next generation.
  2. How long would it take to get places by train? [back to top]
    • One way travel times for the rail transit service scenarios range from approximately 15 minutes between Santa Cruz and Capitola, to 35-45 minutes between Santa Cruz and Watsonville/Pajaro.
    • Travel times vary depending on the number of station stops and level of upgrades to the tracks and line
    • Rail is not subject to highway congestion and has more reliable travel times than vehicles that travel in mixed-flow traffic.
  3. How much does Rail Transit cost? [back to top]
    • Annual operation costs are estimated to range from $4 to $14 million (m) depending on the frequency and distance of the service.
    • Depending on the number of stations, passing sidings, trains per day, and level of upgrades to the tracks, upfront capital costs are estimated to range from $4m to $12m per mile, including construction, vehicles, environmental clearance, design and contingencies. These costs do not include the proposed trail adjacent to the rail line. By comparison Hwy 1 Auxiliary Lanes cost approximately $20-30m per mile. The cost to add nine miles of carpool lanes from Santa Cruz to Aptos is approximately $600m and requires reconstruction of the interchanges to make space for the new lanes under the bridge supports.
  4. How would public rail transit be funded and would it (and other public transit) pay for itself? [back to top]
    • All publicly used transportation – including streets, highways, and transit — is “subsidized” through taxes and fees
    • Transit (bus or rail) has ongoing operational costs, however there are also indirect ongoing operational costs for streets and highways (CHP, air pollution, crashes, etc)
    • The study assumes a portion of the cost of rail transit service would come from a combination of rider fares, a new local sales tax, as well as state and federal grants.
  5. How many people would ride the train? [back to top]
    • Ridership estimates vary by scenario. Approximately 5,000 to 5,500 riders per day (or over 2 million per year) would ride trains between Santa Cruz and Watsonville, based on current travel patterns. Between Santa Cruz and Aptos 4,700 to 5,150 per day would ride the train if it operated every 30 minutes seven days a week.
    • Future year estimates take into consideration projected population and employment growth, but assume conservative level of new housing and business locating on the rail line.
  6. Is it possible to run natural gas or electric powered trains instead of diesel? [back to top]
    • Yes. However this study looked at the cost and operating requirements for two currently available technology options: light Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) and conventional locomotives. These vehicle types are significantly lower cost because they do not require significant additional new infrastructure, such as overhead electric wires.
    • Several innovative technologies are currently being developed that could be feasible in the future. These include low and zero-emission vehicle power, induction and wireless charging and battery advancements. Other viable technologies may be available in the next six to eight years and could be used in the future.
    • Coordination with freight rail service was factored into the rail technologies chosen for analysis. If Rail Transit runs on the tracks at the same time as freight or other heavy locomotives, the vehicles must be Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) compliant and include a Positive Train Control (PTC) system. If lighter rail vehicles are used (including light DMU), they must operate during different time frames as freight rail vehicles.
    • See also question below about freight rail.
  7. What would stations look like and will parking be provided? [back to top]
    • The study assumes that the first phase would include simple platform stations with trail access and bike parking.
    • If the project moves forward, next stages would include more detailed analysis of station area parking, bike share, passenger drop-off areas, car share options, and bus stop amenities. Other rail systems have developed parking policies to manage station conditions and encourage bicycling, walking and transit connections.
    • Amenities at stations could be augmented based on demand and available funding.
  8. Is there enough room in the rail corridor property for both a trail and train? [back to top]
    • Yes, an assessment was performed as part of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (MBSST) Master Plan (see project page)
    • A 1.5 mile section (near 41st Ave) is narrow and the train tracks would need to be moved over to accommodate both train service and trail activity.
    • New bridges would need to be built adjacent to the most of the railroad bridges for the trail. The Trail Master Plan includes costs for these bridges.
    • Pre-construction activities are underway for three sections of trail – North Coast, Santa Cruz and Watsonville — constituting about 25% of the trail along the rail line.
  9. Can the train tracks be removed to make a bicycle/pedestrian only trail? [back to top]
    • Voters of both Santa Cruz County and California approved Proposition 116 to expand the passenger rail network throughout the state. This became a state law titled the Clean Air and Transportation Improvement Act and made $11 million available for rail projects in Santa Cruz County which facilitate recreational, commuter, inter-city and inter-county travel. The California Transportation Commission approved use of the Proposition 116 funds and $4.2 million in State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) funds to purchase the rail corridor from a private company (Union Pacific) to expand rail transportation. Purchasing a rail right of way to remove the tracks and provide only a bicycle and pedestrian path is not in the list of qualified rail projects under the laws governing Proposition 116.
    • Equity issues to be considered include: the needs of individuals physically unable to bicycle or walk, transportation needs for individuals traveling long distances particularly people who may not be able to afford a private vehicle, and how to accommodate the transportation needs of the future including the projected 37,000 new residents estimated by the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) to live in the county in the next twenty years.
    • Other communities that have removed tracks are now spending millions to plan, design, and rebuild rail service (e.g. Los Angeles County).
  10. What kind of noise is associated with Rail Transit? [back to top]
    • Various train technologies have differing noise characteristics. Generally smaller/lighter vehicles have lower operational noise levels.
    • For safety reasons, federal safety regulations require trains to sound their warning horns as trains approach crossings.
    • See document page 117 for discussion about Quiet Zones.
  11. What type of service is recommended in the Final Study? [back to top]
    • Based on extensive public input on the draft study expressing strong interest in providing rail transit service to Watsonville, the final report outlines a hybrid scenario that serves Watsonville (see Section 8 of the study).
    • Initially service might operate during peak commute hours between downtown Watsonville and downtown Santa Cruz, with limited mid-day service in the most heavily populated sections of the line between Santa Cruz and Seacliff/Cabrillo College.
    • Service could eventually be expanded to add stations and more frequent service based on demand and funding availability.
    • While the final report suggests parameters for future service, the preferred scenario would be determined during the preliminary engineering and environmental analysis phase.
  12. Why allow freight trains on the line? [back to top]
    • Freight trains would operate around passenger train schedules.
    • Rail freight reduces the number of trucks on local roads and highways, reducing greenhouse gases and road repairs
    • Short line operator Iowa Pacific (doing business locally as the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway or SC&MB) owns the easement on the rail line for freight operations and is the federally designated Common Carrier with rights and responsibilities for freight operations
    • Freight rail service is protected by the federal Surface Transportation Board and state Public Utilities Commission laws.
    • SC&MB pays for maintenance of the line in exchange for rights to operate freight and excursion passenger rail service
    • With Cemex closed, goods shipped by rail are mostly building materials, agriculture and biofuel
    • Business on the north end of the line is being pursued now that the La Selva Railroad Trestle is finished
  13. What’s the potential to run utilities in the rail corridor? [back to top]
    • Opportunities include broadband, electric, water and other uses
    • Utility and other agreements can generate some revenue
    • Utilities can be added to the corridor uses and be located next to the tracks and/or under the trail
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