Clean Electric Streetcars in the Santa Cruz Plan

Lower-Cost Options for the Santa Cruz Branch Line

2021 was the first time that the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) identified fast wireless  streetcars, also known as fast wireless trams or wireless ultralight rail, as an option for the Santa Cruz Branch Line. This new generation of fast, light, battery-powered streetcars can be implemented at a fraction of the cost of earlier rail transit systems.


Compared to typical commuter rail vehicles, wireless ultralight passenger rail vehicles are smaller and more affordable, while having a higher top speed than the conventional tram/streetcar of the past. Removing the need for catenary overhead wires makes the whole system cost dramatically less. Boarding doesn’t require stations, just low platforms similar to bus stops, giving additional cost-saving. Finally, because of the lighter vehicle weight, bridges and trestles can carry these vehicles at a lower cost than if they were to be fitted for heavier rail vehicles.

The RTC’s Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis (TCAA) Draft Business Plan had this to say about rail vehicle options for the Santa Cruz Branch Line:

Passenger rail service will utilize clean energy technology such as hydrogen fuel cell, battery or other future clean, or non-fossil fuel technologies. Clean energy technologies are advancing rapidly, along with trainsets. …Within the next decade, options for clean fuel trainsets will likely expand significantly compared to what is available today. 

The TCAA Draft Business Plan gives two examples of the kind of high-speed wireless-electric trams that are in service now. 

The Bombardier Flexity is a fast tram that can be configured as battery-electric with the Primove power system. A Flexity tram with Primove charges rapidly at stops using an underground contactless energy-transfer method and can go 100km between charges. 

Electric low-floor tram on a grassy rail line in the city.

The TIG/m MRV 3 is a  fast streetcar battery-electric hybrid that charges overnight and has a 20 hours of service on a single charge. It is designed to carry hydrogen or other onboard fuel as a range extender failsafe to recharge the battery only if needed.

Rail Transit Planned Integrations: Expanded Metro and Expanded Regional Rail

The TCAA Draft Business Plan had this to say about the plans for integration with METRO and regional rail:

Local integration of METRO transit services, other local first and last-mile connections, and regional integration of passenger rail services currently under development by the Transportation Agency of Monterey County (TAMC) will be required to support the ultimate service plans of passenger rail on the SCBRL. Local METRO bus services will need to serve most if not all the rail stations to provide connections to origins and destinations more distant from the SCBRL, making rail stations into mini Metro centers. In addition, other first and last-mile connection services will be needed including:

  • walking and bicycle network improvements to stations
  • bike share
  • micro-mobility services
  • ride-hailing and taxis
  • private or public shuttles

The SCBRL (Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line) passenger rail will be integrated with expected future TAMC and California State Rail Plan passenger rail services connecting at Pajaro Station to Monterey as well as locations in southern and northern California. TAMC is actively pursuing passenger rail service to Monterey County that provides both local commute and greater regional access to San Francisco, San Jose, and Gilroy, utilizing Union Pacific’s Coast Mainline tracks between Gilroy and Salinas. Future phases of the TAMC project include a new station at Pajaro/Watsonville for connection to passenger rail on the SCBRL ROW and a new station in Castroville for connection to the Monterey branch line. Coordination between RTC and TAMC will be necessary as rail projects in both counties continue to develop. 

For more, click here to go to the TCAA business plan: 

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