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Zero Emission Passenger Rail & Trail Project


Project Overview

The Zero Emission Passenger Rail and Trail Project proposes a new high-capacity passenger rail service and stations on approximately 22 miles of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line (SCBRL) from the city of Santa Cruz in the north to Pajaro, just south of Watsonville. The project also proposes 12 miles of Coastal Rail Trail Segments 13-20 from Rio Del Mar Boulevard through the community of La Selva Beach and the City of Watsonville, as well as the Capitola Trestle reach (Segment 11, Phase 2).

The project aims to take advantage of the publicly owned rail right-of-way to provide passenger rail service to connect the most populated areas of Santa Cruz County to each other and to the greater region as well as to provide integrated intercity travel options for riders on the Central Coast. Passengers will be able to bypass Highway 1 and local arterials that are highly congested, providing high-quality connections to key destinations within the county.

In addition to the 22 miles of rail transit service, the new trail would nearly complete the 32-mile Coastal Rail Trail providing a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian travel facility that serves the proposed rail stations by developing 12 more miles of the trail that are not constructed or currently under development.

In October 2023, as the first task of the project, the RTC began work on the Project Concept Report. This report will define, evaluate, and develop a project rail and trail build concept that will be advanced into subsequent project tasks. Read the project’s Preliminary Purpose and Need Statement here (read in Spanish here).

Project Benefits

  • Provides high-capacity zero emission passenger rail transit service and stations on approximately 22 miles of the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line, reducing transit travel times and improving the transit system reliability
  • Connects the most populated areas of Santa Cruz County to the California State Rail Network
  • Provides a public transit network built on frequency and reliability that improves transit connections to community activity centers supporting the local economy and providing better access between housing and jobs
  • Provides 12 miles of new multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trail to enhance bicycle and pedestrian connectivity and safety
  • Passes within 1 mile of more than 90 parks, 40 schools, and approximately half of the county’s population
  • Reduces vehicle miles traveled and associated greenhouse gas emissions

Project Schedule

The Project Concept Report is anticipated to be completed in Spring 2025 and will define, evaluate, and develop a project build concept to be advanced into subsequent tasks. As shown in the schedule below, key milestones for this phase of work include developing a Project Definition and Preliminary Purpose and Need Statement, developing preliminary rail and trail conceptual alignments through a process of conceptual alternatives analysis and environmental screening, refining the conceptual alignments into one preferred build concept, and preparing the draft and final Project Concept Report.

Throughout these activities, meaningful, proactive, and focused public and stakeholder outreach will occur, including several virtual and in-person public workshops and open house meetings.

Following completion of the Project Concept Report, the project will move into preliminary engineering and environmental documentation, and then through right of way and final design, as shown in the graphic below.


Engagement Opportunities

The RTC and its project partners are committed to meaningful public engagement throughout the project’s lifecycle. Community participation is vital to aid in minimizing impacts while meeting the needs of riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians. There are many voices in our community, and we want to hear yours.

Upcoming Events

Milestone Two Virtual Open House

Community members are invited to attend the ongoing virtual open house to learn about proposed rail transit vehicle types and the initial conceptual alignment and share their input.

Available at from June 6 through July 18, 2024.

Stay Connected

  • Email us at with comments or questions
  • Attend future public meetings and provide comments throughout the planning process
  • Sign up for the project email list below

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