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Santa Cruz County Rail Transit Study

Study Overview

The Passenger Rail Feasibility Study analyzes a range of rail transit service scenarios on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. The study includes:

  • Goals and objectives – Used to evaluate the feasibility of each scenario, goals include providing more options for how people get places, increasing the number of people using transit, increasing access to jobs or education, cost effectiveness, and creating more reliable travel times.
  • Service scenarios (map) – Sample of rail transit options representing a range of station locations, service hours, and vehicle types
  • Technical Assessment of Service Scenarios (Section 6 of Study)
    • Capital Cost Estimates (Section 6.1)
    • Operations & Maintenance Cost Estimates (Section 6.2)
    • Ridership Forecasts (Section 6.3)
    • Funding Assessment (Section 6.4)
  • Evaluation (Section 7) – comparing how well each scenario advanced goals and objectives
  • Parameters for Transit Service (Section 8) – Potential phasing based on evaluation and public input
  • Steps for implementing service (Section 9) – implementation considerations, timeline, and a summary of possible next steps if service is implemented


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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, provide an alternative to congestion, 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 an online survey, formally submitted comments, and meeting participation, updates were made for the Final Report (summary of updates). Comments and proposed amendments were provided to the RTC board at its September 2015 meeting.

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

Public Participation

The public comment period for the Draft Study was May 21 to July 31, 2015. The broad countywide engagement in this conversation about rail transit on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line demonstrates that people care deeply about their community and its future transportation options. During the public review period, the RTC received input from thousands of people on the Draft Study via emails, comment forms (430+ responses), an online survey (2600+ responses), and at community events and meetings.

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.

Corridor Background

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).

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