CA: Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission to get first look at passenger rail vehicle types

Jun. 3—WATSONVILLE — As a local transportation agency continues progress on a multi-year passenger rail study, its planners are ready to share options for potential vehicle types commuters could end up riding in should the project come to fruition.

At its meeting Thursday, staff with the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission will give commissioners an early look at three vehicle options for carrying passengers 22 miles along the Branch Rail corridor, from Watsonville to Santa Cruz.

The three varieties, which will be presented with a pros and cons comparison in relationship to one another, are locomotive hauled trains, multiple unit trains and light rail vehicles.

Though the commissioners will provide feedback in response to the proposed trio, the public will also have plenty of opportunities to share thoughts of its own outside of the public comment section of the meeting. Two in-person open houses will be held June 24 and June 25 in Watsonville and Santa Cruz, respectively, so community members can dig into the possibilities.

The Watsonville meeting will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. at 275 Main St. and the Santa Cruz meeting has been slated for the same hours the day after at 1900 17th Ave.

According to the staff report, the final vehicle type will influence the design of the project components including platforms, bridges, signaling, power supply, freight interface and potentially how competitive the project will be for future state and federal grants.

The vehicle deep dive is a component of Milestone 2 of the commission’s Project Concept Report, which was ordered in 2022 and is intended to give a detailed look at the engineering, infrastructure, program design and environment requirements for establishing a zero-emission passenger rail system in the county. The second milestone also includes development of conceptual alignments for the railway that explores the necessary width to accommodate both rail and a trail, travel times, scheduling and train travel speeds.

A draft of the roughly $9.2 million concept report, along with preliminary project cost estimates, is expected to be completed in early 2025 with the final report coming that spring.

The meeting is set to begin at 9 a.m. within the Watsonville City Council chambers at 275 Main St., fourth floor, Watsonville. The passenger vehicle type item specifically will be considered no sooner than 10:30 a.m.

Cost overruns

A project, led by the commission in partnership with Caltrans, to construct auxiliary lanes and bus-on-shoulder improvements from Soquel Drive to 41st Avenue is moving along but it’s going to need a few million more dollars to get it across the finish line.

The Regional Transportation Commission will consider programming an additional $2.8 million of its Measure D-Highway Corridor funds to address construction overruns for the mile-long effort. The commission has already committed $5.2 million of Measure D funds for the $38.6 million project with another $35.3 million coming from state and federal grants, according to the project fact sheet. Still, the state grant for the effort specifies that as the project sponsor, the commission is responsible for cost overruns for construction capital and support components, according to the staff report.

If you go

What: Santa Cruz County RTC meeting.

Why: Overview of passenger rail vehicle types.

When: Meeting starts at 9 a.m. Vehicle item will happen no sooner than 10:30 a.m.

Where: Watsonville City Council chambers at 275 Main St., fourth floor, Watsonville.


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