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Roaring Camp Takes Over Watsonville Freight Service

Roaring Camp hopes to expand use of the rail line to transport goods

Roaring Camp Railroad recently struck a deal with Progressive Rail to provide freight services for Watsonville with this locomotive, shown pulling out of Watsonville Friday. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Roaring Camp Railroads has struck a deal with Progressive Rail to provide freight services for Watsonville businesses.

Santa Cruz Big Trees and Pacific Railway, a subsidiary of Roaring Camp, announced the deal on April 30 in a press release.

Roaring Camp CEO Melani Clark said the two companies came to an agreement over roughly the last two months. The deal will allow local businesses such as Martinelli’s and Big Creek Lumber to move their products en masse via the rail line as they have for decades, Clark said.

She also said Roaring Camp, which has operated in Santa Cruz County since 1963, hopes to expand the number of companies that use the rail line to transport their goods in the near future.

“We’re really happy and stoked to be getting involved [in Watsonville],” she said.

Progressive Rail, through St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, has handled operations of the Santa Cruz Branch Line since 2018. The Minnesota-based company will continue to be responsible for operations, Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) Deputy Director Luis Mendez said. But the deal struck with Roaring Camp will task the Felton-based railroad to handle the day-to-day operations. It will also allow Phase I of the operating agreement between the RTC and Progressive Rail to continue.

That agreement is broken up into two phases. The first allows Progressive Rail to provide freight service on the south end of the line to existing freight customers in Watsonville.

Phase two of the agreement activates after the RTC makes a decision on the future use of the rail line.

If the RTC makes the decision to keep the tracks in place and pursue potential passenger rail service, then the agreement will remain in place for 10 more years and will include the entire length of the rail line. If the RTC makes the decision to remove the tracks beyond the Watsonville area, then Progressive Rail can opt out of the agreement.

Whether or not the RTC will move forward with passenger rail service, is still anyone’s guess. RTC Executive Director Guy Preston said at its most recent meeting that the agency will continue to seek funding for a pricey environmental review needed to determine the feasibility of the project. 

Roaring Camp, in the press release, said it strongly supports the preservation of rail operations in the county.

Clark said the organization is not taking any “political sides” with the deal.

“We see (rail) as something that really provides flexibility for the community,” she said. “I think if you’re looking years down the road, having only two options, being the Highway 1 corridor and a trail, we feel as though the rail provides another opportunity going into the future.”

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. David Ford

    May 25, 2021 at 12:43 pm

    A bus bridge or a rail connection between Watsonville and Gilroy would be accomplished much easier than rebuilding the line over the hill to San Jose. Then they could continue from Gilroy on Caltrain.

  2. William

    May 21, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    Yes, both potential riders are anxiously awaiting passenger service!

  3. Luke Lindroth

    May 19, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    I think that this can be the birth of something new. What I mean is that Roaring Camp (If they want to) can do more with the tracks. They can have an extended version of the Christmas Train, or run more beach trains. But I do think that passenger service is impossible unless the tracks to San Jose are rebuilt. My only concern is that freight that is unprofitable will bleed money. This can be another McCloud Railroad situation were all the railroad has left is tourist trains. I am looking forward to the future with this acquisition.

  4. Jack Brown

    May 18, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    Trying to prolong the use of a short freight line is just prolonging the stranglehold on mass transit for Santa Cruz County. We have spent a decade on study after study to see that rail is not the right fit for Santa Cruz County. Ridership would be way too low to sustain the operations and the costs to implement are far too high and would take too long, over 20 years and a billion dollars!
    Unfortunately, groups like Friends of the Rail Trail, Coast Futura, Coast Connect and Ecology Action, all funded my corporate and developer interests refuse to let go. They scream transportation equity but cannot justify charging riders 3 times what they pay now while requiring 2 transfers and longer commute times is any path to fixing our transportation issues. The 20+ years to fully implement is not something we don’t have time for. Biden’s infrastructure and even the state’s infrastructure spending plans have NOTHING earmarked towards this project.
    Yes we need to invest in our infrastructure, but lets do something that can be done right as well as right now. Abandoned the notion of passenger rail which has not seen a passenger in Santa Cruz since 1971, railbank the corridor and create an interim trail which will allow for inner and inter-community active transportation, reviatlize the infrastructure we have by investing in Metro, Bus on Shoulder, Lift Line and Paracruz.
    Write to the RTC at info at sccrtc.org and request they put this measure on the ballot so we can get the CoastFutura lobbyists like the one below and special interest out of Santa Cruz transportation!

  5. Barry Scott

    May 18, 2021 at 11:38 am

    The RTC needs to move forward with smart clean rail transit!
    The “pricey” environmental review will provide us with the costs of a smarter rapid streetcar solution that can come in at a fraction of the cost of larger systems.
    Visit http://www.coastfutura.org to see the streetcar that was approved by the RTC to provide a demonstration. Write or call you commissioners and ask that they don’t forfeit the future of public transit.
    Infrastructure in our nation is collapsing, it’s time to invest and not to retreat.
    We must not neglect our rail line and our promise to our children and their children to provide for their needs.

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