Passenger Rail

Santa Cruz County Passenger Rail Service  

Passenger Rail Service Study Underway

Could passenger rail transit service work in Santa Cruz County? The RTC is studying the feasibility of passenger rail transit service along the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line which roughly parallels Highway 1 and the coast in Santa Cruz County. This study will include: ridership projections, capital and operating costs, varying service scenarios and technologies; integration with other rail corridor uses; and connectivity to other bus and rail services. The draft study is expected to be available for public review in Spring 2015.

At its September 4, 2014 meeting, the RTC Board approved goals and objectives, evaluation framework, and five service scenarios to undergo detailed analysis, ridership forecasting, and cost estimating. The goals, evaluation metrics, and scenarios were based on public input and feedback from technical stakeholders, community leaders, and peer rail agencies.

Study Overview

The purpose of the Santa Cruz Passenger Rail Study is to:

  • Analyze whether passenger rail service is feasible on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line between Santa Cruz and Watsonville/Pajaro Junction
  • Identify, evaluate and compare passenger rail service options including short-, medium- and long-term passenger rail service scenarios. These service scenarios will be coordinated with freight and recreational rail services, trail use and connecting transit services
  • Provide information on how much rail service would cost and how it could be funded
  • Analyze how many people would ride trains under different scenarios
  • Improve people’s access to jobs, schools, recreation, goods/services, and other activities
  • Meet sustainable communities, greenhouse gas emission reduction and natural environment protection goals
  • If found feasible, provide the community with practical recommendations for implementation of passenger rail service

In an effort to increase multiple transportation uses of the corridor – implementation of commuter and/or intercity passenger rail service, if found to be feasible, would likely be implemented in phases and coexist with other uses of the rail corridor, such as the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network, a planned bicycle and pedestrian trail that would parallel the tracks along the rail corridor.

The rail corridor was purchased with voter-approved Proposition 116 passenger rail funds with the intent to increase transportation options for the community now and into the future. The RTC secured a transit grant from Caltrans to conduct this study in partnership with the Santa Cruz METRO Transit District and the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay (SC&MB) Railway.

Passenger rail scenarios - Santa CruzPassenger rail scenarios - Watsonville

Public Participation – Your input is important

Broad community participation is encouraged to ensure an informed decision-making process. To stay involved, please sign up for Rail Service eNews.

The first stage of public input (Summer 2014) included a public workshop and an online survey on  goals and objectives, possible stations, and service scenarios. Over 2,000 people provided input on Santa Cruz County passenger rail by participating in the survey or attending the workshop. Click here for a summary of the survey (1957 respondents). Click here for the summary of the workshop  (104 people signed in).

Highlights include:

  • 65% of respondents are extremely or very interested in taking a train to destinations along the rail line
  • 83% of respondents think passenger rail will be very or somewhat good for Santa Cruz County, as a whole, in the long term
  • The most popular stations from north to south were: Westside Santa Cruz, Bay Street in Santa Cruz, Downtown Santa Cruz, Seabright, 17th Avenue/Live Oak, 41st Avenue/Pleasure Point, Capitola Village and Cabrillo
  • The survey results indicate passenger rail service has the potential to take cars off the road in Santa Cruz: 77% of respondents say they currently drive alone to their primary destination, but 66.1% of respondents say they would walk to their neighborhood station when taking the train.
  • Interest is high in riding a train to connect with future trains to the San Francisco Bay Area, Monterey and beyond, with 72.5% of respondents indicating they would be extremely or very interested in using such a connection.


RTC Contacts

Karena Pushnik and Rachel Moriconi
Senior Transportation Planners (831) 460-3200