Passenger Rail

Santa Cruz County Passenger Rail Study


Passenger Rail Transit Study

The RTC is studying the feasibility of passenger rail transit service along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line which roughly parallels Highway 1 and the coast in Santa Cruz County.

Passenger Rail Feasibility Study – Draft Report  (Note: The Final Report will include respones to feedback the RTC received before the end of July 31 comment deadline, per the study scope/budget/contract, and is currently under development)

Study Overview

The Passenger Rail Feasibility Study analyzes a range of rail transit service scenarios on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. The feasibility study was initiated to answer questions about how rail transit could further transportation goals for Santa Cruz County providing cost effective travel options that enhance communities, the environment, and support economic vitality. This high-level study includes:

Key Findings

  • A technical analysis and evaluation was conducted for seven sample service scenarios which differed by distance, number of stations, train technologies, service hours, and level of initial and ongoing investment.
  • Ridership estimates range from 480,000 to 1,413,000 annually (base year).
  • Travel times for rail transit range from 16 minutes between the west side of Santa Cruz and Capitola, to 43 minutes between Santa Cruz and Pajaro (see chart below).
  • Adding rail transit would increase transportation choices and has the potential to improve connectivity, reduce sprawl and preserve farmland.
  • Funding for construction would need to be secured from competitive grants.
  • Funding for operation would need to be secured from fares and a local transportation ballot measure. Funding sources currently used for operations by Metro for bus transit were not considered.


Taking into consideration extensive input the RTC received on the draft report via online survey, formally submitted comments, and meeting participation, and the project scope and budget the final report will be prepared – including recommendations for next steps should the RTC decide to implement rail transit service.

Prior to implementing transit service, steps would include: securing funding, environmental review, detailed engineering/design, construction, purchasing trains, and scheduling (in coordination with bus service).

Public Participation

The public comment period for the Draft Passenger Rail Feasibility Study, was May 21 to July 31, 2015. During the public review period, the RTC received input from thousands of people on the Draft Report via emails, comment forms (430+ responses), an online survey (2600+ responses), and at community events and meetings. A summary of input received, including survey results are now available, as well as the aggregate statistics for all survey questions. Answers to some of the “Frequently Asked Questions” about rail service are available online and are updated periodically.

The broad countywide engagement in this conversation about rail transit on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line demonstrates the number of people that care deeply about their community and its future transportation options. Recommendations regarding amendments for the Final Report based on Public comments received on the Draft Report will be considered by the RTC board at its September 3, 2015 meeting (item #20 starting on page 64).

  • Stay informed: Sign up for Rail eNews, to receive periodic emails about upcoming meetings and other updates on this rail transit study and rail line.

Initial input: 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.


The RTC purchased the rail corridor in 2012 with CA and Santa Cruz County voter-approved passenger rail funds in order to expand the passenger rail network and increase transportation options for the community now and into the future. Planning for the rail corridor also includes: connectivity to existing and planned bus service, regional and state rail service, and coordination with other uses of the rail corridor- such as the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (a planned bicycle and pedestrian “rail-trail” parallel to the tracks), freight, and recreational excursion rail service. The RTC secured a transit grant from Caltrans to conduct this passenger rail study in partnership with the Santa Cruz METRO Transit District and the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway/Iowa Pacific (SC&MB).


RTC Contacts

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