RTC to Receive Informational Report at the Feb. 3 Commission Meeting Regarding Potential Adverse Abandonment Action for Freight Service Only on the Felton Branch Line and the Relationship to the Potential for Future Railbanking on a Portion of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) will receive a report during the public session of the Commission’s February 3, 2022 meeting related to a potential adverse abandonment action for freight service only on the Felton Branch Line and the relationship of that action to the potential for future railbanking of a portion of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line north of Watsonville.

The RTC is pursuing the construction of a bicycle and pedestrian trail and has done significant planning for future commuter passenger rail and continued excursion passenger rail on the RTC-owned Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. Railbanking the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, north of Watsonville, would eliminate the need for additional costly repairs on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, estimated to be approximately $50-65M, needed for freight service beyond Watsonville. Railbanking would also ensure the RTC’s property rights to use the railroad easements for the construction of trail segments without the potential need to purchase additional property rights.

Railbanking is a method by which federally regulated freight rail lines proposed for abandonment can be preserved for future re-activation of freight service through interim conversion to trail use and/or other uses. Filing the adverse abandonment action for the Felton Branch Line will provide clarity on whether the RTC might be able to railbank the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.

There is currently no active freight rail service on the Felon Branch Line, but Roaring Camp has indicated that it will oppose railbanking the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. The RTC has offered Roaring Camp a long-term license on the RTC-owned branch line, which would permit continued Roaring Camp recreational rail service to the Boardwalk and potential new recreational service to Davenport. The RTC has also offered financial considerations if Roaring Camp’s equipment needs to be to be delivered by truck.

“The Commission would prefer to reach an agreement with Roaring Camp to not oppose railbanking, but to date we have been unsuccessful in negotiations. Adverse abandonment of the Felton Branch Line is a potential procedural action toward accomplishing railbanking of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, in the event an agreement cannot be reached,” said Executive Director Guy Preston. “We have a lot of respect for Roaring Camp. They are a valuable asset to the Santa Cruz County community, and we want to ensure that they continue to have a successful business for the long term.”

To date, the RTC has not taken any action to approve filing an adverse abandonment application. If the RTC were to subsequently authorize the filing of an adverse abandonment action, the RTC would be requesting the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to order the abandonment of only federally regulated freight services on the Felton Branch Line. The Felton Branch Line connects to the RTC-owned Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line at Maple Street in downtown Santa Cruz.

If the RTC were to move forward with this action and the STB were to approve a proposed adverse abandonment action for freight service, Roaring Camp would be able to continue its passenger tourist service on the Felton line and could potentially also continue the same type of service on a portion of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line upon entering into a mutually acceptable agreement with the RTC.