Railbanking Serves the Community's Needs


By Greenway Advocates (see list below)

In a recent commentary printed in the Sentinel, Paul Schoellhamer wrote about railbanking the Santa Cruz County rail corridor. We thank Mr. Schoellhamer for confirming the legality and viability of railbanking and giving it the serious consideration it deserves.

Railbanking allows a community, through federal law, to convert an unused train track to a trail while preserving the option to convert back to rail if it becomes feasible and desirable in the future. A corridor is railbanked when it is no longer economically viable as a railroad.

Mr. Schoellhamer points out that railbanked corridors are rarely reactivated, but that has little to do with railbanking and everything to do with communities realizing a better transit use for the corridor.

When considering railbanking, rather than focusing on the number of reactivated corridors, a more appropriate question is: How many railroads have been denied reactivation because of railbanking? To the best of our knowledge, the answer is zero.

The railbanking law was written specifically for a situation like that in Santa Cruz County today. Over the past 30 years, four studies have examined the viability of rail-based transportation in the Santa Cruz County corridor. Yet there is no proposal, no plan, no funds, and the public has never been asked to vote to see if they would support the additional tax required for a rail project.

Our rail corridor was constructed in the late 1800’s to move logs. The corridor’s single track, narrow width, and complex terrain make it particularly ill-suited for a passenger train.

In addition, the low ridership estimates in the Regional Transportation Commission’s 2015 Rail Transit Feasibility Study (RTFS) are no surprise since our county’s population is much lower, by a factor of at least four, than most areas with train service. Population growth estimates for the next 50 years do not change this stark reality. The same study says that the old steel rails and wood ties need to be replaced in any case.

These facts, coupled with the projected exorbitant capital and operating costs, make train service in the Santa Cruz County rail corridor infeasible economically, politically, and from a very low ridership perspective. We invite the public to read the RTFS and come to their own conclusion.

It’s time to railbank our corridor, leverage its natural beauty and flat grade, and activate the entire space for public use as a safe, affordable, connected Greenway. Once we do so, we can reallocate rail study and repair funds, as specifically provided in Measure D, to build a countywide protected bicycle, wheelchair, and pedestrian network with Greenway as the backbone. We can move tens of thousands of people daily on Greenway for a fraction of the cost with the best safety, health, and environmental outcomes.

This active transportation network combined with solutions to expedite, increase reliability, and modernize our METRO bus system are the cost effective and practical solutions to get people moving in Santa Cruz County. If our county’s needs change in the future, railbanking will have preserved the option of rail transit on the corridor while ensuring the highest and best use of this valuable asset now.

Let’s stop procrastinating for the train that may never arrive. Now is the time for the public to tell the RTC: Enough time and money have been wasted! We’ve waited 30 years and what we need now are transit solutions that make sense, for this and future generations.

Advocates for Greenway include Buzz Anderson, Patrice Boyle, Enda Brennan, Ted Burke, Bobbi Burns, Bud Colligan, Nancy Connelly, Tobey Corey, Doug Erickson, Gary Griggs, Terri Mayall, Peter Meehan, William Ow, Julie Packard, Dave Regan, Emily Reilly, Dr. Robert Quinn, Scott Roseman, Sibley Simon, Bill Simpkins, Keri Waters and Ashley Winn.