FORT’s Fake News


1. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: “Trail with Transit,” the new name of FORT’s plan.

REALITY: For years FORT has been pushing the plan that its name indicates—“Friends of the Rail and Trail.” In fact, a slide presented by FORT to the Scotts Valley City Council in January 2018 is titled, “Rail + Trail = Best Way.” The name change is a marketing gimmick to dress up the old plan to retain the tracks, even though there is no viable train plan, the RTC has none of the capital to build the infrastructure, taxpayers will not fund an additional sales tax to provide annual subsidies, and the RTC’s own Rail Transit Feasibility Study showed low ridership.

2. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: The current Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail plan (MBSST) was developed after an extensive public process by all stakeholders.

REALITY: The MBSST was developed with specific instructions to prepare a plan that included Trail with Rail. A “best use” analysis of the rail corridor was never done, despite public objections at the time. In fact, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which by law is required to evaluate three other realistic options, specifically excluded the most probable alternate option—a multi-use trail without rail.

3. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: We took Proposition 116 state funds to purchase the rail corridor and now must develop a plan that includes passenger rail.

REALITY: This false statement was used for many years by FORT and the RTC, until five RTC Commissioners, at the behest of Greenway and in spite of opposition by FORT, the Land Trust, and RTC staff, wrote the California Transportation Commission (CTC) and asked the question: “If we repaid the $11.2 million in state funds, can we do whatever we want with the rail corridor?” The CTC responded on September 8, 2015, “Once the funds are refunded, RTC may use the Santa Cruz Branch Line and/or any of its facilities for any lawful purpose.” The CTC continued, “The CTC is willing to work with RTC to develop a solution to any issues affecting this transportation corridor.”

4. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: The Coastal Rail Trail is the widest trail in Santa Cruz County.

REALITY: This is one of FORT’s prized tactics—cherry picking data to draw a false conclusion. First, FORT’s 12’–16’ trail is actually 8’–12’ if you exclude 2’ shoulders on each side, which is standard practice in measuring trail width according to state and federal guidelines. Second, the 12’–16’ trail width to which FORT alludes pertains to certain segments of the trail, but many trail segments through crowded areas are 8’ wide with the tracks left in place (e.g. 17th Avenue to 47th Avenue). Finally, even at 12’–16’ width, the MBSST plan is a recreational plan, and does not provide an optimized transit solution for commuters nor does it provide dedicated lanes for different speeds of use. We already see the problems with this approach on pathways at West Cliff and East Cliff Drives, and it is why cities like Monterey and Chicago are widening heavily used multi-use trails from 16’ to 26’.

5. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: 11 miles of the MBSST are currently underway and it will be complete in 10 years.

REALITY: A 1.5 mile segment from Natural Bridges to California and Bay Streets in Santa Cruz is the only segment approved and no construction has begun. There are such large engineering and environmental challenges with the MBSST plan in Segments 9–17, that it’s likely that many of those segments will never be built. FORT’s claim is false.

6. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: Rail will contribute significantly to Hwy 1 traffic alleviation.

REALITY: The RTC’s Rail Transit Feasibility Study, in Scenario G running 60 trains per day, shows only 300 roundtrip passengers daily from Watsonville to Santa Cruz. Greenway’s studies by the best transportation planners in the U.S. (Nelson\Nygaard and Alta Planning + Design) show that more people will be able to commute at a dramatically lower investment on Greenway. (Slide 34-35; Greenway Capacity.)

7. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: The SMART train in Marin/Sonoma counties is a good example for Santa Cruz County.

REALITY: The population of Sonoma and Marin counties is 763,721 and the San Francisco metro area is 870,887 and a ferry ride away from the end of the train route. Santa Cruz County has a population of 274,673. No train system in the U.S. is viable with a population as small as that of Santa Cruz County. SMART does provide a clarion warning for Santa Cruz County: The SMART train cost over $1 BILLION. The 2015 Rail Transit Feasibility Study showed that Scenario G from Santa Cruz to Watsonville will cost over $500,000,000 over thirty years inclusive of a new sales tax to fund annual operating deficits. When one adds in the unbudgeted items like quiet zones, parking lots, inflation, interest expense and the expected 50% cost overruns on the capital portion of the project (see Department of Transportation study of cost overruns of 58 different rail projects in the U.S. 1986–2013), the price tag increases to over $700,000,000. Why would we spend over $700 million to move 2,750 roundtrips per day, inclusive of only 300 per day from Watsonville?

8. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: The RTC will get much of the money to build the train from state and federal grants.

REALITY: Wishful thinking. The City of Santa Cruz recently declared a “fiscal emergency.” METRO has been cut back due to budget considerations. There are large unfunded pension liabilities at local cities and the county. Most grants require matches (see RTFS page 118), which we don’t have. We need to invest in transportation systems the RTC, cities and the county can sustain for the long-term with our own resources.

9. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: Fares will be affordable at $2.50 for a one-way fare.

REALITY: Fares have not been determined. Since FORT likes to cite SMART as an example of what Santa Cruz County would like to build, it should use SMART Fares as an example: a three segment fare on SMART (equivalent to a Santa Cruz to Watsonville distance) costs $7.50 one-way or $15.00 roundtrip. Annualized fares for SMART are 3–5 times as expensive as METRO fares, depending on whether daily or monthly passes are compared.

10. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: Transit times from Watsonville to Santa Cruz will be 41 minutes.

REALITY: FORT cherry picking data again. FORT’s calculation does not include first mile or last mile travel to the train station and to work upon arrival. So add 10–15 minutes on each end of one’s trip, depending on where one lives, how long it takes to get to the train station, waiting time for the train, and then travel time to and from work.

11. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: The State Rail Plan will provide money and momentum to our efforts in Santa Cruz.

REALITY: The centerpiece of the State Rail Plan is the Bullet Train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Over a decade ago, state voters approved a $9 billion bond to finance about 1/3 of the initial cost estimate of $33 billion. The cost of the project was revised up to $46 billion and then to $64 billion in 2016. The latest cost estimate, published in March 2018, is $77 billion and could rise as high as $98 billion according to state forecasts. Little of the bullet train is built today and funding will be in jeopardy with the election of the next governor in November of this year. The Santa Cruz Sentinel came out against the Bullet Train in early 2018. Multiple city, county and public transportation entities will compete for other state and federal grants, and given the limited ridership and impact of Santa Cruz’s proposed train, it will rate low in competitive bidding against other public entities with large riderships and more transportation impact.

12. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: Railbanking is not a viable option for the corridor.

REALITY: Railbanking has been used extensively in other communities of the United States. Abandonment and Railbanking were foreseen in the Union Pacific Purchase and Sales Agreement of August 23, 2010 (section 6.8.1) and in the Iowa Pacific Administration, Coordination and License Agreement of September 27, 2012 (Section 8.3). Railbanking is provided for by the National Trail Systems Act of 1983 and has been unanimously upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990. In fact, two memos commissioned by the RTC in 2005 and a 2010 RTC FAQ (sections A.3 and D), indicate the process will take 3–6 months and conclude there is “no chance” that the federal Surface Transportation Board would deny the RTC’s abandonment and railbanking application.

13. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: Going with Greenway will delay any trail for a minimum of 8 years and cost $32 million. In addition, unknown liability for easement lawsuits could be over $100 million.

REALITY: Really fake news! The 8 years of delay and $32 million in costs comes from a totally debunked memo from RTC Executive Director George Dondero presented at the first RTC meeting (December 2016) after we all cooperated to pass Measure D, which included a provision to study the “best use” of the rail corridor: “If the Regional Transportation Commission determines that the best use of the corridor is an option other than rail transit, funds may be utilized for other transportation improvements along and near the corridor.” A rebuttal to this specious memo was posted. Nevertheless, FORT keeps repeating these falsehoods. As for legal liability on easements, it is for this exact purpose that railbanking legislation was passed in 1983 (Rails-Trial Conversions: A Legal Review). Railbanking makes the federal government’s legal trust fund liable for any so-called “takings” cases. Once a corridor is railbanked, should easement suits be filed, it is the responsibility of the federal government to pay them. In any case, “takings” cases could be filed against the RTC for its current plan since the primary use of the corridor is changing with any trail being built.

14. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: We have to build a train to accommodate 30,000 more people living in Santa Cruz County in the next 30 years.

REALITY: Greenway has a different vision for the future of Santa Cruz County. First, a transit-oriented bike and pedestrian path has the potential to scale with increased demand. Second, it is much more in sync with the community’s culture. Do we really want a noisy, polluting train going up and down the most scenic parts of our county 60 times per day? Do we want to build the infrastructure for in-fill 10 story apartment buildings next to the tracks and invite 100,000 more people here? We live here for an alternative lifestyle, not to recreate Silicon Valley. In any case, it’s not viable and we don’t have the money to build it, so let’s move on.

15. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: Building a trail without a passenger rail would take away the ability to connect Santa Cruz County to Amtrak and other planned train services in Watsonville, taking away an option for future trips to San Francisco, Sacramento, or Los Angeles.

REALITY: Connectivity is important. We support extending the Capitol Corridor from San Jose to Salinas, which would stop at a new Pajaro station. Amtrak could also stop there. But let’s remember, it’s about 20 miles from Santa Cruz to Pajaro. If you’re going south, it’s easy to take a bus or drive to Pajaro. If you’re going north, it would be faster to take a bus or drive to San Jose, than going south first to catch a northbound train. We will have plenty of connectivity into a future train network in CA without spending close $700 million for a 20 mile segment of track, when we can spend 1/10 of that amount for a robust active transportation implementation.

16. FORT’s FAKE NEWS: New train technology is evolving just as fast as it is for cars. We must preserve the rail infrastructure for future generations so we can accommodate new technologies when they become available.

REALITY: Electric trains were not recommended in the RTC’s Rail Transit Feasibility Study because they were even more expensive than the current diesel train plan. You’ll notice that FORT never discusses costs for any of its grandiose ideas, because none of them pencil out. Now they are talking about battery-powered trains, but again, none of these solutions have been studied, costed, or designed. It’s just more misdirection because the facts do not support FORT’s rhetoric. From the 2015 RTC Rail Transit Feasibility Study, Section 8.2.4, page 152:  

“While rail transit lines can be electrified the costs can be prohibitive, especially for smaller systems. The cost for constructing electric light rail and modern streetcar lines ranges from $50 to 100 million per mile and up. Given traditional funding sources, neither of these technologies is cost-effective for the Santa Cruz line at this time.”


  1. Rail Transit Feasibility Study, 2015
  2. Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail plan
  3. Environmental Impact Report
  4. Letter from the RTC to the California Transportation Commission regarding 116 Funds
  5. Response from the CTC to the RTC
  6. Highway Design Manual, Chapter 1000 Bicycle Transportation Design—CA DOT, 2017
  7. Evaluation of Safety, Design, and Operation of Shared-Use Paths [PDF]—Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology, June 2006.
  8. Greenway Presentation to Kimley Horn, slides 34-35
  9. Greenway Capacity
  10. Union Pacific Purchase and Sales Agreement of August 23, 2010
  11. 2010 RTC FAQ
  12. Rails-Trial Conversions: A Legal Review
  13. Debunked memo from RTC Executive Director George Dondero
  14. Santa Cruz County Greenway Rebuttal to RTC Memo
  15. Sonoma, Marin and San Francisco population
  16. SMART Fares
  17. Bullet Train Cost Estimate, March 2018