Watsonville City Council Calls for Passenger Rail Transit

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On June 23rd the Watsonville City Council passed a unanimous resolution urging the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to implement passenger rail transit from Watsonville to Santa Cruz. Watsonville is the first city in Santa Cruz County to make a public statement about which kind of transit on the rail corridor will best serve the residents of the city.

The council made the resolution in response to the ongoing RTC Alternatives Analysis, a study that is evaluating public transit options for the section of the rail corridor that connects Watsonville and Santa Cruz.

In addition to supporting rail transit on the corridor, the resolution also supports the ongoing construction of the Coastal Rail Trail alongside the tracks. If rail transit were to be implemented in phases, the resolution calls for Watsonville to be included in the first phase.

Many individuals and several county-wide organizations attended the meeting remotely and made public comments supporting the resolution, including Bike Santa Cruz County, Friends of the Rail and Trail, and Coastal Rail Santa Cruz. Our thanks go out to each Watsonville Council member for their vote and their leadership.

The publicly-owned rail corridor runs 32 miles. Starting from Watsonville Junction in Pajaro, the rail line goes north through Seascape, Rio Del Mar, Aptos, Capitola and Santa Cruz and then continues along the coast to Davenport. At Watsonville Junction, the rail line connects to the regional rail network.

Monterey County is building the Salinas Rail Extension project, which will bring passenger rail service to Watsonville Junction, providing us with easy connections to Gilroy, Salinas, and beyond. The Coastal Rail Trail will run the full length of the line from Watsonville to Davenport and is under construction alongside the tracks now.

The Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) is in the midst of conducting the Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis study to evaluate the merits of different kinds of transit that might be used in the corridor between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. At this stage the alternatives have been narrowed down to two kinds of rail transit that would use the entire corridor and two kinds of bus transit that would use parts of the corridor. The study is scheduled to present a locally preferred alternative in September 2020.

In October of 2012, after 20 years of effort by the RTC, the community, and leaders such as Sam Farr and John Leopold, the RTC purchased the Santa Cruz Branch Line in order to institute passenger rail service and to build a multi-use trail. In the years since the purchase, every transit study has continued to find that rail in the corridor will serve more people for less money and provide higher quality service with far better environmental outcomes than any other option.

The June 23 Watsonville City Council resolution is a powerful endorsement of rail transit over other alternatives. It is heartening to see the Watsonville City Council taking a leadership role in advocating for high quality eco-friendly passenger rail service for the people of Watsonville and the region We hope that other Santa Cruz County government bodies will make their voices heard as well.

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