The RTC’s Proposed Rail Trail

The RTC’s Proposed Rail Trail

A Realistic Assessment From the Perspective of a La Selva Resident

By Ashley Winn

Rail Trail Times Publishing Group Inc tpgonlinedaily.comSomeone I respect sent me an e-mail in which he asked: “Wouldn’t it be nice if La Selvans could hop on a light-rail train at Seascape to go to Downtown Santa Cruz?” This friend suggested that it is more realistic than someone making the round trip via bike.

These questions are directed at the current dispute between the RTC, which appears to favor a commuter train, plus a pedestrian-bike trail, and Santa Cruz Greenway folks who favor a “trail only” along the rail corridor.

I originally assumed a rail made sense. The RTC used $11 million in Prop. 116 funds to purchase the rail corridor and those funds were intended to create rail options. I have since come to realize that returning the $11 million to the State makes more sense than trying to fund a rail trail. With Measure D Funds, the RTC can return these funds to the State and complete the pedestrian-bike trail envisioned by the Santa Cruz Greenway group while the cost of a commuter train from Santa Cruz to Watsonville makes little financial sense.

Rail Trail Times Publishing Group Inc tpgonlinedaily.comThe RTC published a Rail Transit Feasibility Study (“Study”) in December 2015. That Study considered several rail scenarios. Only one of the scenarios (G1) included a train stop at Seascape – the closest proposed stop to La Selva Beach. Unfortunately, this Seascape service is only proposed for “seasonal” weekends! The other stops closest to La Selva are downtown Watsonville or Aptos Village.

According to the “Study,” the capital cost to build the rail and start service would be $175.6 million with a cumulative cost over twenty years of $523.5 million. Considering its projected fares, the cost would be $445.3 million. The annual operating cost (less hoped-for fares) would range from $11.8 to $14.3 million (Study, p. 126).

The annual ridership in this scenario is projected to be 1.5 million riders (P. 127). (By comparison the County’s bus system serves approximately 5.5 million riders per year!) The annual operating cost after fares is estimated at the low end to be $11,750,000 (p.127).

Rail Trail Times Publishing Group Inc tpgonlinedaily.comFrom the Seascape stop — only seasonally available on weekends — the train ends up at the “Downtown Santa Cruz Station,” located at Beach and Pacific (near the Wharf). The train’s speed would average about 25 miles per hour and the existing tracks need to be replaced. At the “Downtown Santa Cruz Station,” you could then walk to get to downtown or wait for a bus.

Wouldn’t it be nice if La Selvans could hop on a high-speed train at Seascape any day of the year to Pacific and Cooper Street? The problem is that is simply impossible. Even an electric bus on the rail corridor might make more sense.

A further impact on La Selva Beach could be encroachment on or damage to the La Selva Beach Improvement Association’s (LSBIA) bluff property. On our recent rail walk, we measured areas along the tracks in La Selva from San Andreas to the trestle to see where the “rail-trail” would fit.

In some spots there is no room for both a rail and trail. In other spots, to include the trail with the existing tracks, retaining walls would have to be built on bluff property owned by LSBIA to include the rail and trail.

The RTC has suggested that the trail should be 12-16 feet wide and that the trail must be a minimum of 8.6 feet from the center of the tracks. This would suggest 21-26 feet is required regardless of train type or speed.

For those people who are reluctant to give up all hope for a future rail service, it appears that they don’t have to. There is a concept called “Rail Banking” authorized by Section 8(d) of the National Trails System Act, which allows a rail line to transfer the rail corridor to a public agency for interim use as a trail until such time as a rail service is feasible, desired and needed.

In short, if the RTC decides a rail is not feasible at this time, it may be possible to preserve that option through Rail Banking. The RTC claims to have been researching this option, but has not acknowledged it.

For me, a pedestrian trail and bike path (without a train and separating walls obstructing views) from La Selva Beach to the sloughs to the South and North through Seascape to Hidden Beach would be nice. Not only would it be nice; it is also feasible within the near future with the existing Measure D funding.

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