If or when the rail line between Davenport and Watsonville is purchased, what will be the best use for it? How would it benefit the community?
The possible uses of the rail right-of-way are: 1) to provide freight service, 2) for passenger rail service of some sort or 3) for a bicycle and pedestrian trail. Right now, which option or options would most benefit the community is a question that is wide open and will have to be decided by the Santa Cruz County Regional Trasporation Commission (RTC) in the future.
The future of freight service in Santa Cruz County is very much up in the air with the termination of shipping by the CEMEX cement plant in Davenport. Unless the cement plant resumes shipping by rail, it is unlikely that freight rail service will continue for long in the county. Without freight service to and from the cement plant, the small amount of other shippers on the line is insufficient to financially sustain the service.
Although Santa Cruz County does not have the population density to support regular passenger rail service at this time, it is important to preserve the rail line corridor for the future. We don’t know what new rail or other means of transportation might be available in the future that would fit Santa Cruz County’s population and geography.
There is also wide support for a trail along the rail corridor that could be used by residents and tourists to access different areas along the line. A bicycle ride on a rail trail from Santa Cruz to Capitola would take only minutes and be free from automobile traffic, making it safer and far more enjoyable.
All of these ideas will have to be researched and considered if the rail right-of-way is purchased by the RTC. The decisions about use of the rail line will open some doors and close others, and it is important that those decisions be based on factual information and good public input.
Financially, who is responsible for the acquisition and how will it be covered?
It is the RTC that is in negotiations with Union Pacific for the purchase of the rail corridor. The RTC is a separate public entity [than the county]. The RTC has county, city and Metro representation on its board.
The RTC has lined up state and federal grant funds to cover the purchase price, as well as $5 million in repairs and upgrades to the trestles. I believe that the real question is what will the costs be in the future to maintain and operate the rail line, and how will those be paid.
As long as there is freight service on the line, the operator, be it Union Pacific or another freight line operator, will be responsible for maintenance of the right-of-way. Likewise, if there were ever passenger service on the line, the operator would be responsible for maintenance of the line. In either case, the operator would also pay the RTC for the right to run trains on the line. That income would go to cover costs not included in routine maintenance such as insurance, staff costs, and upgrades.
In addition, there are many leases of land along the rail line. Income from those leases would go to the RTC to cover costs not paid for by the freight service operator.
If there is no train service on the line, maintenance requirements and costs would be drastically reduced. However, even with no rail service there would be some costs. Those would be paid from the lease income and state and federal funds awarded to the RTC.