A Santa Cruz local enjoys his ride down the new trail rail path.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Big Rail Trail hearing ahead Thursday: How to make your voice heard

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission will meet Thursday to consider community input about the controversial Rail Trail project in advance of a key February vote.

Written comments to the RTC are due by noon Wednesday.

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Some form of electrical passenger rail that could co-exist alongside a recreation path has been identified as the No. 1 option for the 32-mile coastal corridor from Watsonville to Davenport, according to a 300-plus-page “Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis and Rail Network Integration Study” commissioned by the RTC.

A decision on whether the rail option should be electric commuter rail (akin to a BART train) or electric light rail (such as Los Angeles’ Metro Rail system) hasn’t been made — and a vocal contingent of Santa Cruzans believe the idea of any rail along the corridor is too expensive and shouldn’t be allowed. They’re advocating for a mixed-use bike and pedestrian path only.

Regardless, feedback from the public, community organizations and other stakeholders “will be fully considered by the project team and the RTC in making its final decision,” on the corridor, the study’s authors wrote.

The ultimate decision on the corridor is up to the Regional Transportation Commission. Its leadership includes all members of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, one member each of the Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and Capitola city councils and three members appointed by the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, as well as the CalTrans District 5 Director.

Thursday’s hearing will be held during the RTC board meeting via Zoom and will start no sooner than 9:30 a.m. Staffers are expected to give an updated overview of transit alternatives and summarize public comments to date. The agenda for the meeting, including the RTC staff report, can be found here.

After Thursday’s hearing, RTC staff will edit and finalize the study for a Feb. 4 meeting in which the RTC board is expected to vote on a transit option.

After that, the staff will begin prepping a strategy for building out the corridor; only limited trail segments have been constructed so far.

A trail portion of the project could be completed by 2030 at the soonest, and passenger trains aren’t expected to begin operating — if they ever do — until 2031 or 2033.

Go Deeper
  • View the full Rail Trail report
    The most recent version of the “Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis and Rail Network Integration Study” dives deep into the project. This file might take some time to load.