Santa Cruz tourist train update

John Barnhill Aug 6, 2010

  1. John Barnhill

    John Barnhill TrainBoard Member

    Santa Cruz County agrees to launch North Coast tourist train

    By Kurtis Alexander - Santa Cruz Sentinel
    Posted: 08/05/2010 02:30:47 PM PDT
    Updated: 08/05/2010 02:32:30 PM PDT

    County transportation leaders agreed Thursday to run tourist trains on the Union Pacific railroad when and if they buy the 32-mile rail line.
    The decision follows recent demands by the state that county officials show more of a commitment to passenger trains if they want state funding. The state is on the verge of giving the county $10.2 million for purchase of the line with money earmarked specifically for trains.
    The county Regional Transportation Commission has long discussed passenger service, but only this week under state pressure did it commit to a plan: The county will pursue a contract with Woodland-based Sierra Northern Railway, which is currently handling freight service for Union Pacific, to run excursion trains between Davenport and Santa Cruz within the next three years.
    "Next week we will be able to report at the California Transportation Commission meeting that we've met all their conditions, but one," said Luis Mendez, deputy director of the county Regional Transportation Commission.
    The one condition that remains unfulfilled is having a licensing agreement with Sierra Northern Railway, which Mendez says he's working on and expects to have soon.
    For years the county has been seeking to buy the rail line, which runs from Davenport to Watsonville, in hopes of building a hiking and biking trail along the tracks and perhaps establishing passenger service. The effort, though, has been slow-going due to lengthy negotiations with Union Pacific and now difficulties qualifying for funding.
    Thursday, a handful of community members protested the county's decision to initiate tourist trains on the North Coast.
    One person complained the planned recreational service was merely "masquerading" for the true wish of the state, which is commuter rail. Others worried the county's commitment to excursion trains leaves it on the hook for any losses the service might incur.
    "I believe you are taking huge risks with our transportation funding," said Aptos resident Bill Comfort, noting that the state has the power to ask for its money back if the county doesn't meet its demands.
    County transportation officials, however, said their agreement to launch tourist trains allows them to terminate the service, penalty-free, if the service doesn't prove financially viable.
    The county's planned $14.2 million rail acquisition hinges on getting $10.2 million from the state in voter-approved Proposition 116 funds, which the state in June agreed to hand over once the county meets certain conditions.
    County transportation leaders say they were surprised the state added new terms to the funding this summer, including the commitment to initiate recreational trains.
    "It's been a moving target," said John Leopold, a county supervisor and member of the transportation commission's governing board. "(But) I don't think we're going out so much on a limb (by meeting the new conditions.)
  2. BarstowRick

    BarstowRick TrainBoard Supporter

    Santa Cruz would be wise to initiate tourist type trains. It has the potential of being seen as a boon to the local economy, the boardwalk, and the other connecting tourist trains in the area.

    Perhaps reviving the old commuter trains similar to those that once upon a time ran from Monterey, Ca., to San Francisco. Ie., A San Francisco to Santa Cruz, once or twice a day round trip. The problem with this... it's faster to take the freeway up and over the Santa Cruz mountains then to ride the train.

    The downside is the cost to maintain and repair the track. There are bridges, old wooden trestles that are bordering replacement. The cost as well as environmental issues will be prohibitive.

    I suspect those board members in Santa Cruz have a hidden agenda and plan on shutting down the tracks and removing them. Most environmental groups in the area have said as much.

    We shall see and time will tell but at what cost to the state.

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