Train in Vain?

Train in Vain?

by Tyler Fox
Founder of Santa Cruz Waves
Photograph by Leslie Muirhead
reprinted with permission

The Little Engine That Could, The Polar Express and good ol’ Thomas The Tank Engine were a few of the children’s books I eagerly requested as a child. The toy train set I received for Christmas one year was a hit, and I’d spend hours resetting the tracks to go around all sorts of objects, like the dining room table or the unsuspecting sleeping cat. As I got a little older, my friends and I would put pennies on the real tracks when we heard the lumbering giant in the distance and excitedly wait to collect our little copper pancakes. When teenhood arrived, we’d run and jump on the caboose and see who could ride it the longest. (Teenagers aren’t always known for making the safest choices…)

My point is that trains are very much a part of our culture, history and heritage. However, in light of the proposed local plan to build a new commuter train next to a trail (known as the “rail-trail” option) or create a simple, beautiful and direct trail-only corridor (aka the “Greenway”), the choice has become obvious to me. Here are a few of the drawbacks to building a new commuter train that have informed my stance on the issue and led me to believe that the Greenway is the right thing to do.

The width: There are a total of 24 bridges or trestles along the corridor between Watsonville and Davenport, and they are simply not wide enough to support an active rail line next to a path. The plan is to construct costly new bridges, a handful of which would be too big of an engineering feat. In those cases, the path will be diverted back down onto busy streets.

The environmental effect: Growing up in Aptos, I’ve walked this corridor many times and seen firsthand how narrow much of it is. In order to fit a train, trail and the legal buffer zones, huge excavations, retaining walls and massive tree removal would have to be done. In my eyes this is like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.

The cost: According to the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Master Plan, the estimated cost for the “rail trail” is $127 million, and that does not include the retaining walls or excavation projects. A Nelson Nygaard study estimated that the Greenway bike and pedestrian path could be built for $50 to $70 million.  

I could go on, but for now I’ll leave you with a saying of my grandfather’s that I find to be useful time and time again: “Keep it simple, stupid.” There’s still time to become educated on the issue and add your voice to the conversation. Visit to learn more.