Satellite view of the Santa Cruz County corridor that will be the site of a trail and, possibly, a future passenger train.
Satellite view of the Santa Cruz County corridor that will be the site of a trail and, possibly, a future passenger train.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Watsonville votes to support Rail Trail business plan ahead of RTC meeting next week

In a special meeting Friday, Watsonville councilmembers backed the pro-rail plan for Santa Cruz County’s coastal corridor. Santa Cruz officials did the same earlier this week. Now, the issue is set to head back before the county’s Regional Transportation Commission on May 6.

A heavily debated proposal to have a commuter rail line run alongside a recreation trail along the Santa Cruz County coast got a boost from Watsonville city leaders Friday afternoon.

The Watsonville City Council voted in a special meeting to support the Rail Trail business plan, which the county’s Regional Transportation Commission is set to discuss at a meeting next week.


6:25 PM, May 03, 2021This story and its headline have been updated to reflect that discussion about the Rail Trail business plan at the Thursday, May 6, RTC meeting is set to be informational only.

Friday’s special meeting came in response to a request from councilmembers Lowell Hurst and Aurelio Gonzalez that the council show support for the pro-rail plan in advance of the RTC meeting.

The 12-member RTC on April 1 failed to approve the plan, throwing the future of rail along the corridor in doubt. The issue is scheduled to be discussed before the RTC at its May 6 meeting.

Get involved

The business plan’s aim is to have an electric commuter train system on the old Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line corridor, with a trail alongside it. Since the RTC shelved the plan in its last vote, commissioners are set to discuss the project again — but no substantive action is expected.

Rail proponents say passenger trains would provide a major benefit to the many Santa Cruz County workers who live in the Pájaro Valley but work in North County. Opponents question the cost of the project and how exactly it would get funded; they favor a trail-only option for the 32-mile-long corridor.

Watsonville’s action on Friday puts it in lockstep with the county’s largest city: Santa Cruz. Earlier this week, the Santa Cruz City Council approved a resolution in support of the business plan, which, among other things, acts as a roadmap to outline funding sources and implementation steps to make passenger rail a reality.

When a similar move to back the business plan went before Watsonville City Council on Tuesday evening, some city leaders sparred over it.

Not long ago, the Watsonville City Council already had passed a resolution in support of rail. On Tuesday, Hurst and Gonzalez wanted another such vote of confidence before next week’s decision, but they didn’t add the item to Tuesday’s agenda on time, Mayor Jimmy Dutra said. Hurst said he thought it was crucial for Watsonville leaders to speak as one body before the next RTC meeting, setting the stage for Friday’s special meeting.

Dutra, who wants the Rail & Trail issue to be put before voters before any final decision is made, was absent from Friday’s meeting. Councilmember Ari Parker was also absent.

During the 30-minute meeting, about a dozen people spoke in support of the pro-rail resolution. The motion passed unanimously and with little fanfare, although Councilmember Rebecca Garcia said she still had pressing questions for the RTC, including how equitable train fares would be for South County users.

Contributing: Patrick Riley