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We saw something last week that you don’t often see, in fact, that I don’t recall ever seeing: unanimous agreement on the Rail Trail.  The occasion was the meeting of the Regional Transportation Commission.  The Land Trust, Bike Santa Cruz County, Friends of the Rail and Trail and the Great Trail group all supported the staff recommendation. The recommendation was about how to deal with some surprising obstacles in building the North Coast segment of the Rail Trail.

Everyone also agrees it was complicated, so I’ll spare you the details. What everyone agreed to was RTC basically using the environmental impact report process to decide whether to build the trail on the coast side of the tracks or the inland side, or whether to abandon the tracks all together. The report will take about nine months, so our rare unanimous agreement will likely last until early next year when the commission will pick which option to follow.

The process is necessary to speed up decision-making so that the entire project can be built before time runs out on the $6 million federal grant that is funding the North Coast segment of the Rail Trail (along with $4 million in Land Trust matching funds). Advocates for the “trail only” approach said at the meeting that they want RTC to pick the “trail only” option. They have the problem that the time it will take to undo the basic Rail Trail plan would certainly mean losing the federal money.

But that argument is for another day. After the meeting I chatted with Miles Reiter and Great Trail’s new Executive Director, Gail McNulty. We all agreed we want a great trail and decided to leave it that vague. Why ruin a day when we all agreed on something?

Stephen Slade is the Executive Director at Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. He has more than 40 years non-profit experience in fundraising, communications, and management – and a deep passion for the lands that make Santa Cruz special.

Find out more about Stephen Slade…

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This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. I watched a video of the public commentary for one of the meetings on this section in which a representative of Roaring Camp stated their opposition to removing the tracks and their desire to run a tourist train to Davenport along this stretch. I think it’s likely that they would file an objection to any abandonment application that came before the STB, since they have an economic interest in preserving this stretch of track. The citizens of Davenport would also have a financial interest in preserving this stretch and would also be eligible to file an objection to abandonment.

    On a side note, Roaring Camp already uses the tracks in Segment 7, so there is no possibility of removing tracks there. Complaints by Trail Now about the cost overruns in Segment 7 imply that track could be removed. That simply isn’t true. Design challenges that arise as one starts getting into the details of a construction project are a fact of life. You just have to address them as they come up.

  2. Smart, clean, electric rail transit is in our future and we’re right to keep the active rail line ready to be upgraded. Since 1990, US passenger rail ridership has increased by 67%, while bus transit dropped 16%. Option 1, by far, offers the best level of service, already has significant engineering completed, and would be most likely to break ground in time to not lose funding.
    We should pay attention to the growing body of evidence that our community supports rail and trail, and we should prepare to do what Monterey County is doing: They’re extending service from Santa Clara county into Salinas. We can meet them at Pajaro.
    http://www.tamcmonterey.org/programs/rail/salinas-rail-extension/

  3. Stephen,

    The “agreement” you speak about is belied by your statement: “They have the problem that the time it will take to undo the basic Rail Trail plan would certainly mean losing the federal money.” Before you were saying that environmental studies and redesign proposed by the Great Santa Cruz Trail Group would take “years.” Now it appears it can be done in 9 months. And you are predicting the conclusion of a new RTC “study,” even though the time delays you have consistently predicted have vanished. It’s no wonder why the Great Santa Cruz Trail Group questions many things being said by the RTC and the Land Trust regarding the trail. First Segment 7, the only segment with a true engineering plan, comes in at double the budgeted cost, thanks to very expensive retaining walls, culverts, moving buildings, etc–all to preserve a train that will never be funded or approved by voters. Now the trail that is “25% funded” and “designed in the award-winning MBSST plan” turns out, according to federal surveyors, can’t be built on the trail as designed and probably can’t be started until after 2020, losing millions of dollars in federal grants (poof! so much for 25% funded). The arguments put forth by the RTC and the Land Trust are cracking all around, as the reality of doing what you propose meets the facts on the ground. I hope the Land Trust board will look carefully at how the facts continue to shake the foundation of the RTC and Land Trust’s position and reevaluate where it stands. The mission statement of the Land Trust is “to protect, care for, and connect people to the extraordinary lands that make this area special.” I respectfully suggest the Land Trust get out of the train business and go back to its stated mission, which WE ALL AGREE is a good one!

    1. Dear Bud,

      The study of the North Coast segment can be done in MONTHS, but undoing the Rail Trail Master Plan will take YEARS, 8 years according to RTC staff estimates. So if the Trail Only approach was chosen for the North Coast, it would mean the loss of Federal funds for the North Coast segment because of the time restrictions of that Federal grant.

      We certainly think that helping fund the building of a trail that connects 92 parks fits into our mission of connecting people to the lands that make this area special.

      1. Stephen,

        We all know at this point that RTC “time estimates” have been made up. There is no reference or substantiation for any of the estimates put forward by RTC staff in its December 8 memo. That memo has been thoroughly debunked (with many factual references) in a post on the Trail Now website. Referring to the Dec 8 memo at this point undermines your arguments, since now the RTC is saying it can do a “quick and dirty” study of the North Coast issues in just 9 months. Clearly, when the RTC wants to do something quickly, it finds a way to do it. We could build a complete 32 mile multi-use trail, make a profit on the removal of the steel rails and ties for scrap value, and be relieving pressure on Hwy 1 and Soquel traffic, in FIVE YEARS if we all got behind the plan. Unfortunately, the inferior trail the Land Trust and RTC are proposing won’t be built for 10+ years and a train will NEVER be operable in this county (it’s too expensive, has low ridership, and voters will never approve another sales tax to support its annual operating losses). So….the Trail Only pathway is the MOST expeditious solution to get our county moving and one the Land Trust, given its mission, should support.

        1. Bud,

          We have very different takes on the RTC’s and the Trail Now estimates of the delay in abandoning the current Rail Tail plan and going with a Trail Only approach. Part of the difference in how we read them is that we view RTC as a reliable, professional transportation agency that is actually building the trail now – and you think they are biased and “make stuff up.” We see Trail Now as a biased advocacy group, with a history of distorting information – including about the Land Trust. We trust one of them, you trust the other and, of course, we come to different conclusions.

          I note that the Trail Now document estimates that abandoning the Rail Trail plan and going the Trail Only route would take two to five years, which would be in addition to the two years it will take to complete the Unified Corridor Study – a total of up to seven years. Not so different than the eight year delay estimated by the RTC staff. And AFTER that seven to eight years, you would be STARTING to build the Trail Only. In contrast, we could have most of the Rail Trail built in the next eight years.

          You note, again, that RTC’s “quick and dirty” study of the North Coast issues somehow shows that their estimates on abandoning the Rail Trail are exaggerated. RTC’s North Coast study is a study of options, NOT the abandonment of the Rail Trail plan. If after doing this study, the RTC then decides to drop the rail option, all the steps they outline would still have to be taken and that would take seven or eight years. The federal funds for the North Coast will not be available in seven or eight years.

  4. Given the obstacles and time constraints to remove the track it is safe to say Option 2 is dead on arrival.

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