By TOM HONIG
So here's a followup to a recent post about the acquisition of the rail line by the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Agency. After many years of dealing with this issue and not really understanding the proposal in its entirety, I finally just listed the questions I had had about the purchase.
After the post, I ran into a staffer at the RTC, and told him that I was serious about those questions and that I hadn't meant to be snarky. "Yeah, well I think it was snarky," he said. OK, maybe it was. But -- he encouraged me to look on the RTC's new website, and at the FAQ's, and I'd get my questions answered.
Earlier, an actual board member of the RTC -- his name is being withheld -- contacted me and he also answered some of the questions. So, OK -- maybe I'm a little red-faced, because most of my questions indeed had answers. But hey ... I didn't know, and I bet a lot of others don't either.
So here are my questions as asked in the previous post -- and the RTC official answers. Is the rail purchase a good idea? That's a judgment call.
1. Why is the RTC so intent on buying the rail line? Is it to provide transportation, to continue freight service to Davenport or is it to buy the land for an eventual hiking/biking path? What actually is being proposed here?
A. The RTC actually wants to buy the rail line because it's there. If the line gets abandoned by the current owner, the right-of-way may cease to exist. Buying it now keeps options open -- and future generations will look back and thank today's RTC.
2. Is there any freight service left now that Cemex in Davenport has shut down? What freight shipping is even happening?
A. Only a little. Much of the revenue is gone, but there's still some. And, look back at the previous answer -- the disruption of freight could cause the right-of-way to be partitioned and sold off.
3. Would any of this be pursued on its own merit -- or is it because the county qualified years ago for an $11 million federal grant for rail funding?
A. Refer to the Answer No. 1.
4. Are there funds available to establish the infrastructure -- stations and parking lots, primarily -- along the rail line?
A. To a degree -- yes. The proposed rail service for the line will only go a short way -- from Santa Cruz north toward Davenport. For now, nothing is being proposed for Mid-County. See the next question.
5. What kind of rail service is envisioned? A commuter train? A tourist train? Something else?
A. A tourist train. As of now, a more extensive commuter service is not being considered. The proposed operator, Sierra Northern, operates other recreational lines elsewhere in California, and the company considers such a venture here to be viable.
6. Will opponents of train service on the tracks throw up roadblocks to any development of a rail line?
A. Who knows? But probably not, considering the short distance that the train would run.
7. What is the advantage of owning the rail line?
A. The RTC folks say it's better than not owning the rail line -- again, that the right-of-way might cease to exist if it's not saved now.
The purchase of the rail line has been -- and apparently will be -- a long process. Essentially, the RTC is saying that it's better to own the right of way than have it disappear. Makes sense.
Of course, a number of people are hoping that the right-of-way will someday turn into a rail-trail, meaning a dedicated path for walking and biking. Here's the official line from the RTC website:
"The RTC is in the very early stages of developing a Master Plan for the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network. This planning process will analyze potential alignments for trails and trail segments along or near the coast. If segments of the rail line can adequately accommodate a trail segment along with rail service, those trail segments may be constructed on the rail line."
In other words: It'd be great, but it'll be a long time coming.