6 Reasons to Support both Zero-Emissions Rail and the Rail Trail

Rail and Trail are better together! A recent tie vote caused the RTC to stop pursuing electric passenger rail service next to the rail trail. The RTC should be pursuing both the Rail Trail and passenger rail public transportation in Santa Cruz County.  Here are 6 reasons why. 

1. Rail and Trail are Better Together.

 Rail and trail together will provide both active transportation and public transportation. A win-win for all°. The award-winning and approved Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (MBSST) plan maps out a rail trail next to the tracks. This plan shows we can have both an improved transportation system with electric rail and a fantastic new rail trail that goes around the bay. The rail and trail project has already gone through extensive legal and environmental review with rail alongside, and portions of the rail trail have already been completed. Lets keep the momentum going!

2. Adding Rail is about Investing in Public Transportation.

Clean light rail will cut commute times nearly in half¹ by providing commuters with an alternative to Highway 1, allowing commuters more time with their families. Those who live in South County communities in and around Watsonville spend up to 90 minutes or more each way getting to and from work. These mostly essential workers need a better way to their North County jobs. In fact, we all need an alternative to being stuck in traffic, regardless of the reason.

3. Adding Rail is a Climate Action.

Historically, 60% of our county’s GHG emissions are transportation-related². Adding zero emission light rail is the most effective thing we can do to reduce them. The most recent study by the RTC indicated that adding rail in addition to the rail trail will reduce GHG emissions by 1482 metric tons annually³, the equivalent of planting 24,500 trees and growing them for 10 years every year, year after yearˆ. That’s a huge reduction in GHG emissions that we can achieve with just this one project! There are no other transportation projects in Santa Cruz County that come close to this number.

4. Rail Enhances our METRO Service and Provides Car-free Options for All.

About one third of our county residents, including seniors, youth, and people with disabilities, cannot easily get around our community because they do not drive. These people rely on public transportation. Whether you are unable to drive or prefer not to drive, adding passenger rail will make car-free travel faster, easier and less expensive. In fact, adding clean light rail next to the rail trail is projected to increase county-wide public transportation use to 250%ª of pre-pandemic levels which helps the long term health of METRO (more riders on every bus!). With easy roll on & off convenience, light rail provides better options than the walking and biking rail trail alone, enabling independent travel for errands, shopping, medical appointments and moreº. As an added bonus, rail transit will be free of traffic congestion even during rush hour.

5. Rail Transit with the Rail Trail will create Safer Walkable Neighborhoods.

The traffic reduction achieved by adding electric rail transit is projected to reduce vehicle, bike and pedestrian accidents by 346 collisions every year℘. That’s almost one less collision every day! Plus, local businesses will enjoy more foot traffic, increased visibility and traffic-free transportation options during festivals and events. For a county with one of the worst pedestrian and cycling safety records in the state, making our neighborhoods safer will have a positive impact now and for generations to comeℑ.

6. This is a Regional Project.

Zero-emissions rail will seamlessly connect us to regional, state and national rail networks at the Watsonville Junction♦. Imagine “Around-the-Bay” car-free rail transit between Santa Cruz and Monterey and points in between. Imagine traveling stress free and car free between where you live and San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles or anywhere else in CA or the USA.

So what should happen to the rail corridor? We should use it for transit service and a great rail trail!

Pausing this project threatens our ability to address worsening traffic and congestion, address climate change and improve the quality of life in our community. It is clear expanded transit, especially rail transit, is a priority for funding at the state and federal level. We threaten our ability to bring this money home by not moving forward.

Please join Friends of the Rail & Trail, the Sierra Club, Bike Santa Cruz County, Youth for Climate Justice, the City Council of Santa Cruz, the City Council of Watsonville, the Monterey/Santa Cruz Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party Central Committee, the Pajaro Valley Cesar Chavez Democratic Club, the Democratic Women’s Club of Santa Cruz County Environmental Committee, the San Lorenzo Valley Women’s Club Environmental Committee, the Campus Democrats at UCSC, and Roaring Camp Railroads and many other local organizations and businesses in promoting a rail and trail today!

¹Predicted travel times between destinations from the RTFS are: Watsonville – Santa Cruz 40 minutes; Aptos Village – Santa Cruz 18 minutes; Capitola Village – Santa Cruz 11 minutes.

²County of Santa Cruz – Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories and Emissions Reduction Targets. Tables 2.1 and 2.2.  http://www.sccoplanning.com/Portals/2/County/Planning/policy/Climate%20Action%20Strategy/2.0.pdf?ver=Ez5JfoXNL-Q2WS8wjOCC_Q%3d%3d

³TCAA/RNIS Table 5.21 Reduction in Greenhouse gas emissions

ˆ EPA Equivilancy Calculator https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

˜FACT Sheet for the Current Rail Trail Plan https://sccrtc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Fact-Sheet_MBSST_Coastal-Rail-Trail.pdf 

° $41M estimated cost to reverse policy, etc. UCIS Appendix B, Table B-13: Trail Only

ªPre-covid METRO annual reports indicate there are about 5,000,000 annual boardings on the bus system or about 13,700 boardings per day. The TCAA/RNIS (Table 5.19) predicts adding LRT will increase use of public transit countywide to 34,300 boardings per day. Doing the math: 34,300 / 13,700 = 250%

ºSee highest priority item 30 in the 2021 Final Draft Unmet Paratransit and Transit Needs prepared by the Elderly and Disabled Transportation Advisory Committee of the RTC. Linked here: https://sccrtc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Final-Draft-Unmet-Needs-List-w-RTC-edits.pdf

℘TCAA/RNIS Table 5.9: Safety Performance Measures


♦2018 SRP and TAMC’s RNIS both illustrate the future regional and state rail networks to which the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line connects at the Watsonville Junction


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