The Coast Futura at a rail crossing.
Civic Life

Future transit preview or limited engagement? Coast Futura will demo Santa Cruz rail option

The battery-powered, zero-emission Coast Futura is offering free rides along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line on its clean-energy streetcar. The rides, which must be reserved, will be in Watsonville on Oct. 16-17 and between the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Capitola the following weekend.

The latest entry into the decades-long debate about the use of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line — which stretches from Davenport to Watsonville — is a zero-emission streetcar whose promoters are offering the public free rides this month.

The Coast Futura will be running in Watsonville on Oct. 16 and 17 and between Santa Cruz and Capitola the following weekend. Rides are free, but must be reserved.

Spokesperson Trink Praxel said the project both addresses climate change and increased access to transit options for residents of Santa Cruz County.

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“After years of discussion and imagining what rail transit could actually look like, the Coast Futura demonstration provides the very first look at a solution,” Praxel told Lookout via email. “The Coast Futura streetcar produces zero pollution, does not use overhead wires, is very quiet, is lightweight and is a much less costly alternative to traditional heavy rail transit options.”

Although final use for the 32-mile rail line is still to be determined, Iwalani Faulkner, another volunteer with the group, said small-scale trips could begin immediately. She also said service from Westside Santa Cruz to Watsonville could be possible in less than a decade.

According to Coast Futura, the system would be fully compatible with other potential plans, including the bicycle and pedestrian trail already under construction. The company also said fares for the electric rail vehicle would be comparable to current public transit fares.

“A train that comes at regular intervals and is not stuck in traffic makes for a very attractive way to travel,” Faulkner said. “Students, families and workers are so excited by the idea of electric light rail because it would make commuting to Santa Cruz so much easier and a huge time-saver.”

The company behind the streetcar, TIG/m: Streetcars, says its vehicles are operated by rechargeable batteries. The hydrogen-battery hybrid vehicles will be charged with renewable energy sourced from Central Coast Community Energy.

“The Coast Futura streetcar meets the need through use of rechargeable batteries and provides a proof of concept for how to make rail transit accessible to all,” Praxel said. “Especially hardworking commuters who are now facing heavy traffic and long travel times.”

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The Santa Cruz demonstration will take passengers from the Beach Boardwalk to Capitola, while the Watsonville demonstration will go from downtown Watsonville to near Sunset Beach. Both will be about a 4-mile ride.

“The arrival of the Coast Futura demo is a historic moment in time for Santa Cruz County: a chance to see and touch the future of rail transit,” Praxel said.