Essential Reading

The Trail is Being Built Now

Frequently Asked Questions

Coast Connect is a vision to bring our community together through a modern and efficient transportation system that is environmentally sustainable and accessible for all. Coast Connect envisions a system for Santa Cruz County and beyond that includes innovative rail technology, an expansive and safe trail network, and integrated options to reach your final destination via METRO buses, bicycling, walking and ride sharing. Coast Connect is about economic vitality, greenhouse gas reduction, efficiency and wellbeing for all who live, work, visit and play here.

Coast Connect is a campaign powered by Santa Cruz County Friends of Santa Cruz Rail & Trail (FORT), a local nonprofit that has advocated since 2002 to serve and connect our entire county via an inclusive 32-mile paved bike trail from Davenport to Watsonville and adjacent passenger rail transit running from the City of Santa Cruz to Watsonville Junction in Pajaro.

Coast Connect is focused on building community interest in and support for a modern transportation system for the entire county, including a protected trail network, clean, quiet passenger-rail service, and integrated first and last mile options. Our primary focus is to shepherd and speed the RTC’s rail with trail project through to completion.

We envision a transportation system that includes reliable eco-friendly electric passenger rail,  a 32-mile rail trail connected with a neighborhood trail network, and safe streets built with room for people so we can walk, roll and ride freely. Bicycle lanes and sidewalks, rideshares, and synchronized bus-and-rail transfers will provide convenient safe connections to the places we’re going.

Construction began in 2019 and the entire trail should be completed by 2030.

After years of comprehensive study and public input, the RTC unanimously decided to move forward with a vision that includes both a trail and a transit system along the corridor. Further, easement access along the corridor is specifically established for a rail service. If the rail line were removed, landowners would certainly initiate expensive litigation, putting public access to the corridor at risk.

Local voter-approved Measure D funds are already allocated for a portion of this project. In addition, there is funding from the State of California available as part of the State Rail Plan and a variety of other future funding sources that could be explored and adopted to fund rail and other mobility improvements in our county.

A robust transportation system will create economic opportunities: Business opportunities will open up for new and existing companies. For existing businesses, reliable transportation options with defined schedules increase the likelihood that employees who commute across the county will get to work on time. Also, cross-county commuters are likely to see reduced commute times that result in a higher quality of life, and tourists can make their visit a car-free experience.

Our long-term goal is to transform the existing rail corridor into the backbone of a robust countywide transportation system. We foresee a modern, reliable, efficient and climate conscious system that provides maximum mobility, car-free travel options, easy access throughout the county, and serves as many people as possible while allowing them to enjoy coastal beauty. The trail can be completed by 2030. Rail service will follow.

The majority of the greenhouse gas emissions in Santa Cruz County are transportation-related. Public transportation reduces greenhouse gas emissions, with rail systems being seven times more energy efficient than buses, while buses are much more efficient than cars. An integrated network combining bus, rail, complete streets and rideshares will let us leave our cars behind. New rail technologies are becoming available that could utilize carbon-free electricity provided by Monterey Bay Community Power.

Level-boarding passenger rail service running parallel to a wide, flat, and level trail provides independent transportation options to more people, including those with mobility challenges. A high-quality integrated transportation network with smooth transfers makes it easy for people to get to school and work without needing the expense of a car.

The 32-mile trail will run from Davenport to Watsonville along the existing rail line. It will be within 1 mile of 92 parks, 44 schools and half of the county’s population. The 22-mile passenger rail service will be offered between Watsonville and Santa Cruz.

Passenger rail will run next to the trail on the existing Santa Cruz Branch Line tracks, serving stops from Watsonville Station at Pajaro junction to the Westside of Santa Cruz and points between. It will connect to the regional rail network at Pajaro junction, providing access to Monterey, Salinas, Silicon Valley, and points beyond. 

New technologies, such as battery-powered electric rail vehicles, have noise levels similar to a single car. Quiet zones eliminate the need for loud horns at crossings.

Creating a modern and efficient transportation system is a long-term vision and process. Construction of the trail is underway but establishing passenger rail service in our county will take years. Planning now for the future is forward-thinking and responsible.

There are a variety of ways to follow Coast Connect including social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter), the Coast Connect website and the Coast Connect email newsletter.

The trail is being built now! Checkout the completed portions on the Westside of Santa Cruz and in Watsonville.  You can see the status of each section here:

Yes! The TCAA Business Plan has determined that all the best options for the Santa Cruz Branch line are all electric. Modern electric trains are battery powered and don’t require overhead wires or third rails.  With technology rapidly evolving, there may even be more electric options available to us when we implement service.  Learn more about the various options available now here: Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis & Rail Network Integration Study

Passenger rail service is projected to reduce traffic in our neighborhoods and will provide much faster commute times to anyone who takes it instead of driving Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis & Rail Network Integration Study. While HWY 1 is likely to remain highly impacted even if we widen it, rail service will offer a choice to those who want to avoid that congestion. We’re looking forward to safer neighborhood streets and the ability to choose to not sit in traffic by taking the train.

Most studies show that adding more lanes actually increases traffic, especially on surface streets because it allows even more cars to travel. This phenomena is called ‘induced demand’ Here’s a great video explaining more. How highways make traffic worse.

Rail & Trail is the community vision that led to our purchase of the Santa Cruz Branch rail line.  The award winning Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (MBSST) master plan designed a trail to work in coordination with passenger rail service.  This community choice was reaffirmed in 2016 when the Regional Transportation Commission did a study in 2016 called the Unified Corridor Study (UCS). The UCS studied all the main north-south corridors in the county and made recommendations for the best transportation uses. The UCS found that the best use of our rail corridor was for both public transportation and a multi-use trail alongside it. Then the Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis & Rail Network Integration Study found that Electric Rail Transit was the best choice for public transportation on the rail corridor.

Single  track rail lines use passing sidings. Sidings are places where a short amount of double track is built ,usually at a station, in order to let trains pass each other.  This allows  more trains to be in service at a time.  The RTC has planned for passing sidings in order to accommodate frequent service on our rail line. There is room for up to 5 passing sidings along our line, and there’s still space for the trail as well! Here’s a good video on how passing sidings work. Sidings make rail networks operate more efficiently.

Yes! The most recent study by the RTC indicated that adding electric rail will reduce GHG emissions by 1482 metric tons annually, the equivalent of planting 24,500 trees and growing them for 10 years every year, year after year. That’s a huge reduction in GHG emissions that we can achieve with just this one project! Since 60% of our county’s GHG emissions are transportation-related it’s really important that we implement transportation projects like light rail that will offer GHG reductions for the entire county.

Predicted travel times between destinations from the Rail Transit Feasibility Study are: Watsonville – Santa Cruz 40 minutes; Aptos Village – Santa Cruz 18 minutes; Capitola Village – Santa Cruz 11 minutes. And these times are constant, regardless of time of day, regardless of commute traffic!

The best transportation planners tell us that the key to a great transit system isn’t parking, it’s accessibility and reliability. For our county, the best system is a combination of rail and metro service. When we combine rail service (known for its reliability and its ability to move more people faster along the most crowded routes i.e. North-South through our County) and METRO/PARACRUZ service to neighborhoods not within walking distance of the line we create a transit system which one can use with-out ever getting in your car. Want to create an even better system? Add improved walking and biking infrastructure, to give everyone more options to walk and roll the short distances. Win-win-win.

No! Light Rail and Metro will work together to create a full transit system. In fact, adding light rail is projected to increase county-wide public transportation use to 250% of pre-pandemic levels which helps the long term health of METRO (more riders on buses!). This is because we increase the reliability and accessibility of our most important transit route (North-South along the coast). This improvement in service allows all other routes to be more efficient and enjoy higher ridership as well.

Although final stations have not yet been decided, here is an example of where stations might be. Final decisions will be made as a community, any suggestions or comments on future stations can be made by writing to the RTC at

Many stations will be very small, much like a regular bus stop, while some may be larger to incorporate passings. This will be determined with community input and will take the available space into consideration.

Yes! We are advocating for dedicated and fully synchronized bus service that will run directly from the rail line to both Cabrillo and UCSC as well as pedestrian and bike improvements connecting both campuses to the rail line and surrounding neighborhoods.

You are already paying taxes into state and federal infrastructure funds.  Our rail and trail projects are an opportunity to bring that money home for our benefit locally.  If we don’t have a local rail project, there are other communities that will happily use our tax dollars to fund their systems. If we find that the state, federal, and existing local funds are inadequate to fully fund our projects, we can discuss what ways we might raise a local contribution.  That will be a community decision.

Our corridor is ideally positioned to be a highly used railway, specifically because of our density and concentration of businesses along the corridor is what so many cities wish for when looking to implement commuter rail. Most cities end up having to invest significant funds restructuring development around new commuter rail lines, which we do not need to do. Over the past years, the options for low emission green quiet light rail have only improved and increased as traffic has only worsened.

Most cities end up having to invest significant funds restructuring development around new commuter rail lines, which we do not need to do. Over the past years, the options for low emission green quiet light rail have only improved and increased as traffic has only worsened.

In a recent survey done by a third party polling firm FM3, 74% of active voters in Santa Cruz County support passenger rail transit on our Santa Cruz County Branch line. 


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