The RTC is evaluating the Coastal Corridor as part of the Unified Corridor Investment Study. A passenger train continues to be considered by the RTC, yet the RTC has not been forthcoming about the cost of implementation. Even after extensive studies, the RTC appears unaware of the enormous cost and risk of a passenger train.
We sent the following letter to the RTC on January 12, 2017. (Note that the below copy has been edited for clarity and links to relevant sources added.)
As you conduct the RTC's Unified Corridor Investment Study, Trail Now suggests that you look at how other communities converted old railroad tracks into "commuter lines" and their "success".
A great example is the WES Commuter Rail running between Beaverton and Tigard in Oregon. The project was sold to the public as a "low-cost" commuter rail project that would cost just $80 million. The line is 14.7 miles from the Beaverton Transit Center to Wilsonville's transit center. When construction started, the cost ballooned to $125 million. When WES began operations, the final cost to taxpayers was over $160 million. Further capital projects have addepd several million more to the cost, including Positive Train Control, purchasing additional rolling stock (because the originally purchased rolling stock had reliability issues, not because of capacity constraints), and so on.
Taxpayers were told "it'll use existing railroad tracks", instead the entire railroad had to be removed and replaced, from the sub-roadbed up. Every trestle on the route had to be completely replaced. Completely. Because TriMet was well over-budget, they decided not to replace the Tualatin River Bridge resulting in a permanent speed restriction north of the Tualatin station of 35 MPH while crossing the river.
The WES Commuter Rail costs taxpayers $17 each time someone sets foot on the train. A bus costs about $3.00. Some of TriMet's most heavily ridden bus routes cost much less.
Ridership was estimated to be 2,400 within one year and 5,000 in ten years. After seven years of operation, the actual ridership barely breaks the 2,000 mark.
All of the grade crossing equipment was replaced, even though many of the signals were fairly new. So were the grade crossings.
In the end, virtually nothing of the old railroad structure was used. It is almost entirely brand new construction. Every station is 100% brand new. The equipment is brand new. The rails are brand new. The ties are brand new. The ballast is brand new.
The primary point is that any thought that a passenger train will exist on the Santa Cruz branchline must acknowledge that everything will have to be replaced.
The conclusion is unavoidable: The risks are too great to try and build a passenger train system on the Coastal Corridor. The sooner the RTC communicates this to the public, the sooner we can move forward with using the Coastal Corridor for alternative transportation solutions.