Guest Comment | As RTC reviews rail corridor issues, Roaring Camp passenger train not in danger – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Reports circulating in our community last week regarding the Santa Cruz County rail lines caused quite a stir. Let me start by saying that Roaring Camp’s beloved Beach Train is not in danger.

Reports that the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) decided behind closed doors to proceed with an adverse abandonment along the Roaring Camp rail line are not correct. It is true, however, that the RTC has discussed options regarding the issues we face in making the RTC Rail Corridor available for beneficial public use.

RTC owns the rail corridor that runs from Watsonville north to Davenport, while Roaring Camp owns the line from Santa Cruz to Felton. The RTC purchased its line over 10 years ago using Proposition 116 funds. Since then, we have spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars conducting studies to analyze options, including upgrading passenger rail service and the construction of a multi-use trail. The RTC has fulfilled and will continue to fulfill its obligation to accept funds from the Prop. 116, and I have been happy to not only support this work, but to ensure that passenger rail remains an option.

The RTC has done due diligence on the types of projects feasible along the rail line. The commission voted behind closed doors to further disclose this information in the form of a public report at its February 3 meeting. We did this for the sake of transparency and to educate the public about the difficult decisions we face in making the RTC-owned line available for the public good while ensuring that Roaring Camp’s operations are not affected. negatively.

Roaring Camp has been a valued business in the San Lorenzo Valley for decades, and I’ve had the privilege of supporting it at every level. I will continue to defend Roaring Camp and will not support any decision that undermines their passenger rail business. Roaring Camp has universal support in this regard from the RTC and staff.

The real question is whether freight service is viable. There are many indicators that we need to consider. First, rail operators who have contracted with the RTC since the CEMEX plant closed years ago have not been able to make the freight business financially successful and, in fact, have sought to evade their contractual obligations to provide freight service. Freight service to Watsonville from the south is active and, through Roaring Camp, existing freight customers continue to be served. However, north of Watsonville, we must consider the condition of the RTC-rail line to justify the freight service.

The cost of repairing bridges and other repairs needed for freight service is estimated to be over $60 million. There is currently no source of funding, as federal and state funds that have been widely touted as available for rail lines are primarily available for other rail projects where existing freight service exists or where ridership and population density are well documented to justify commuter rail.

I continue to be grateful for the county’s Measure D and State Senate Bill 1 transportation funding, but I think it would be futile to ask the taxpayers of Santa Cruz County for railroad funding. dedicated for now. We should first repair and continually maintain our current transportation network. Rail banking, part of the abandonment process, is a strategy to preserve freight rail ownership for future freight reactivation. If a line has a rail bank, rail passenger transport can be implemented where affordable and feasible. No adverse abandonment action items are scheduled for Feb. 3, and if there was, I wouldn’t vote to move it forward because more information and a better understanding of the issues are needed. We must keep our lines of communication open and continue to explore all options to fully understand what our taxes will eventually pay along the publicly owned rail right-of-way.

Supervisor Bruce McPherson represents the Fifth District and is a member of the Regional Transportation Commission.

Jose P. Rogers