Bank on This

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about railbanking. The discussion was kicked off by an op-ed written by Paul Schoellhamer, formerly with Friends of the Rail & Trail (FORT). Anti-railbanking discussions primarily revolve around the same basic argument: Once you tear up the tracks and build a trail on the railbed, you have made it nearly impossible to put tracks back. But railbanking is not about removing tracks, it is about preserving the right-of-way—tracks or no tracks, trail or no trail.

The anti-railbanking argument is an emotional one, wrapped in a blanket of fear, with little recognition of fact or basic economic principles. The fundamental premise of the railbanking program is that once a corridor is placed in railbanking status, the railroad is entitled to reinstitute rail service on the line. At the time of the initial rail-trail conversion, the possibility of rail service reactivation is, by definition, remote, since the corridor would not have been proposed for railbanking if there had been a foreseeable future need for rail service on the line.

It is true no rail service has been reinstated on a railbanked corridor. This is not in dispute. However, arguing a rail corridor has not been reactivated because it was converted to a trail is simply false.

To date, about 5,900 miles of rail corridor have been railbanked and 3,600 miles now have trails open to the public. That’s great, but what about the other 2,300 miles of railbanked track without a trail? Keep in mind, railbanking does not mandate track removal. There are miles of railbanked corridors, with miles of railroad track in place.

RailbankedMiles
With Trails3,600
Without Trails2,300
Total5,900

Again, the basic premise is removing tracks for a trail equals no rail ever. Well, if a trail was truly an impediment to restoring rail service, you would expect to see some rail service reactivated on the 2,300 miles of corridor without a trail, right? To the best of our knowledge, this hasn't happened. To date, 19 miles of railbanked corridor have been approved for reactivation. But, the railroad never went forward with restoring rail service on any of those segments. Why is that?

Railbanking simply preserves the right-of-way. This is a good thing. Otherwise the corridor would likely be absorbed into the surrounding parcels and would truly be gone forever. The fact that rail service has not been reinstated has nothing to do with a trail, and everything to do with basic economic principles.


All sides agree our rail corridor presents a tremendous opportunity. We also agree removing existing railroad infrastructure is not to be taken lightly. That said, railbanking supporters recognize the probability of rail service occurring in the foreseeable future remains extremely low. History has shown this to be true.    

  • 1983: A feasibility study was completed considering rail service between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. Same plan, same arguments, and 34 years later we have nothing.
  • 1994: There was the “Santa Cruz – Los Gatos Rail Corridor Feasibility Study”. It’s been 24 years, and we have nothing.
  • 1998: The “Around the Bay” rail study was completed for potential service between Santa Cruz and Monterey. Still nothing after 19 years.   
  • 1999: The Major Transportation Investment Study (MTIS) considered various passenger rail scenarios throughout Santa Cruz County. Again, we have nothing to show for this. 
  • 2015: The RTC completed the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line Rail Transit Feasibility Study.  Ridership estimates were low, diesel trains were recommended, and there’s still no plan for rail service.  

Currently, the RTC will study rail options again as part of the upcoming Unified Corridor Investment Study (UCIS).

Clearly, the RTC approach is:

  1. Study rail options
  2. Do nothing
  3. Repeat

How many more studies do we need? 

Top 10 Reasons Not to Build the Rail-With-Trail

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The good folks at the Train Trust of Santa Cruz County recently posted their “Top Ten Reasons to Build the Rail Trail”.  Obviously, we created our own list of reasons not to build the proposed rail-with-trail.    


Quick side note, the Train Trust continues to use the ambiguous term “rail trail” and includes a photograph in their post looking directly down the center of the corridor.  Time for a reality check.  The proposed trail would be built adjacent to the tracks (properly referenced as a rail-with-trail) and would decimate the environment within the corridor.  We thought their mission statement was to protect and care for our extraordinary lands?  


We digress.  Without further ado, here are the top ten reasons not to build the proposed rail-with-trail:  
1.     Doubles the cost compared to building a trail down the middle of the corridor
2.     Requires 22 new bridges; including two freeway crossings
3.     Includes miles of retaining wall
4.     Removes thousands of trees and plants
5.     Installs a fence running the entire length of our county
6.     No separation between bicyclists and pedestrians
7.     Not 100% funded; new taxes and grants needed
8.     Circumvents existing UCIS study for best use of corridor
9.     Will include unsafe surface street reroutes
10.  There will never be a train
 

Farmers and North Coast Rail-to-Trail

Farmers on the north coast and Trail Now support a rail-to-trail from Swift Street to Davenport along the Coastal Corridor. This proposed alternative route has the most scenic views, is the lowest cost, and can be completed by the 2020 Federal Grant deadline. Trail Now is looking for community support for the farmers in the creation of the North Coast Rail-to-Trail.

An Overwhelming Bias

An Overwhelming Bias

The Santa Cruz RTC presented a report outlining possible uses of the rail corridor. The report was meant to be the beginning of an “open and transparent” process to determine the highest and “best use” of the corridor. However, the numbers included in the report, with little attribution or factual reference, don’t add up, and the analysis is so biased against a trail-only solution that it lacks credibility.

InfraCulture

See that trail on the left? That's a 20-foot wide separated trail designed for transportation. The setback (distance to train tracks) is over 20 feet. What about the trail on the right? That one is about 10-feet wide, with no separation, and was designed for recreational use. The setback is around 10 feet and it runs adjacent to a tourist train.

At first blush, the two trails seem very similar, and that's the problem. Unfortunately, our corridor is too narrow to keep the train tracks and build the trail on the left. Instead, we've unwittingly been sold a recreational trail and most folks have no idea.

The rail-trail debate would be over if we could build the trail on the left, but we can't. Call us crazy, but we truly believe that this trail, if done properly, would change lives. It's the type of infrastructure the create a new way of life, making our community more walkable, sustainable, and healthy. Join us in saying: "Give Trail a Chance".