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Proponents of a trail-only approach to the rail corridor tell us that we can “save the tracks” for later use through something called railbanking. I’ve even heard a few people say, it’s been done hundreds of times, which is a half-truth.

It is half-true because thousands of miles of tracks have been removed and turned into trails. The misleading part is the implication that you can put the tracks back after you’ve replaced them with a trail. That has never happened. Not once.

Paul Schoelhamer, who spent years working on transportation policy as the Chief of Staff on the House committee on transportation, has the history and detail in an op ed in the Sentinel last weekend. Click here to read it.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that trails never get turned back into tracks. Imagine the public outcry that would greet any plan to remove trails. As Paul notes, “Once you tear up the tracks and build a trail on the railbed, you have made it nearly impossible to ever put the tracks back.”

The Land Trust’s position is clear and simple: we want to build the trail as fast as possible and we want to preserve the rail option. These two goals reinforce each other because the fastest way to build the trail is to build it as currently planned (and currently underway) – with the tracks in place and the rail option saved.

Two inconvenient facts remain for the trail-only proponents: Railbanking is a dead end for transportation options, and changing the already-approved RTC plan will reboot an approval process that will likely delay trail-building for almost a decade as the permit and grant applications begin anew.

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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…

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. With Monterey expanding passenger service from Salinas to Gilroy with a new Pajaro station at the end of our Santa Cruz Branch Line, and with new vision from CalTrans in the 2018 State Rail Plan, there’s little doubt that our elected leaders will even consider, much less initiate, abandonment and removal of the rail line. The 2018 State Rail Plan describes literally billions in support for expanding our modern rail network and we’re long overdue in becoming part of that network!
    Oh, and the trail gets build much sooner if we keep the tracks in place! Yay!

  2. We are pleased that Mr. Schoellhamer concurs that railbanking is a legal and valid process for the Santa Cruz Branch Line. The fact that no rail lines have been reinstated as a result of railbanking speaks to the preferences of the communities where railbanking has been enacted (and the lack of economic viability for the rail lines), not that it’s not possible. We believe in the wisdom of future generations. Evidently, the Land Trust and Mr. Schoellhamer do not.

    1. The issue isn’t whether it is LEGALLY POSSIBLE to rip up tracks, build a trail, and then rip up the trail and build a railroad again — it is whether this is really a viable way to preserve the rail option. Seems a more reliable way to give future generations a choice is to leave the rail line in tact, rather than putting an insurmountable obstacle in front of them. And, of course, following the current plan has the advantage of being the fastest way to build the trail.

  3. Today was a gloomy rainy day, but a ride by rail on the RTC branch line will surely put a smile on your face.

    A RTC senior planner along with the consultants hired by the RTC to evaluate the rail corridor ended their journey by rail in Aptos this afternoon. I can’t think of a better way for them to evaluate the rail corridor than by experiencing it by rail.

    I am very optimistic for the future of rail with trail.

  4. Thank you Stephen, Paul Schoellhamer, & Val Cole for some actually TRUE information about railbanking. I fully agree that it’s outrageously short-sighted (& for some of the tear-out-the-tracks proponents, obviously self-serving) to turn our magnificent coastal rail corridor into just another road.

    We don’t need a rail line along this highly populated part of our county only for the future:
    We need the TRAM & TRAIL NOW.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I’m distressed to see the frequent large ads in the paper in favor of trail-only with no similar rebuttal.

    1. Remember the large Earthquake in1989 in Santa Cruz. The rail kept running freight into Santa Cruz shortly after the event while everything was quite messed up for getting freight into town. We want to keep the rail also.

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