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Rail Service Studies

Old railroad track through countryside in autumn, aerial view from drone pov

Zero Emission Passenger Rail and Trail Project

Building off past studies, the Zero Emission Passenger Rail and Trail Project is evaluating passenger rail service and stations on approximately 22 miles of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line (SCBRL) from the city of Santa Cruz in the north to Pajaro, just south of Watsonville. The project also includes 12 miles of Coastal Rail Trail Segments 13-20 from Rio Del Mar Boulevard through the community of La Selva Beach and the City of Watsonville, as well as the Capitola Trestle reach (Segment 11, Phase 2). The RTC has secured funding for the first step of the environmental analysis: development of the project concept report.

Past Studies

Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis (2019-2021)

The Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis (TCAA) evaluated public transit investment options that provide an integrated transit network for Santa Cruz County utilizing all or part of the length of the rail right-of-way as a dedicated transit facility. One of the outcomes of the Unified Corridor Investment Study, completed in January 2019, was to reserve the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line (SCBRL) for high-capacity public transit adjacent to a bicycle and pedestrian trail. This analysis was conducted by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) in partnership with Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (METRO). Visit the TCAA webpage for more information.

Passenger Rail Study (2015)

In conjunction with agreements made as a condition of acquisition of the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Line and to maximize transportation uses of the rail corridor, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) is assessing the feasibility of commuter and intercity passenger rail service. The RTC was awarded a Transit Planning grant by Caltrans to evaluate the feasibility for phased passenger rail service including estimates of capital and operating costs, an analysis of varying service scenarios and technologies; and connectivity to other bus and rail services.

The objectives of the Santa Cruz Passenger Rail Study are to:

  • Provide the community with practical recommendations for implementation of passenger rail service, in accordance with forecasted ridership demand and funding
  • Identify, evaluate and compare passenger rail service options that are cost effective and provide additional transportation options, thereby increasing capacity for movement
  • Improve people’s access to jobs, schools, recreation, goods/services, and other activities
  • Meet sustainable communities, greenhouse gas emission reduction and natural environment protection goals.
  • Identify short, medium and long term passenger rail service scenarios that are coordinated with freight and recreational rail services, trail use and connecting transit services


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Capitola & Aptos Recreational Rail (2005)

Demonstration Trains

The RTC hosted or co-hosted three different rail demonstration programs in 1996: the Return of the Sun Tan Special; the Coastal Cruzer/Flexliner; and, the First Night Trolley/RegioSprinter. The purpose of these events was to showcase various kinds of modern rail vehicles and explore their suitability for Santa Cruz County. In addition, these events have provided residents with a chance to experience not only different types of trains, but also transportation on the railway corridor. These first-hand experiences helped residents understand more about future mobility options in Santa Cruz County.

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