TRAC Releases Santa Cruz Rail Study

In an effort to jump start rail service in Santa Cruz County, TRAC today released its Santa Cruz Rail Study. The study details the economics of a public-private partnership that would provide rail transit service on the Santa Cruz Branch line, supported by three profit-making services: Beach shuttles, dinner trains and excursion trains, and rail connections to San Jose, Monterey and Salinas. 

By overwhelmingly defeating the Greenway Initiative, the voters of Santa Cruz County have clearly indicated they want rail in their future. The TRAC study offers a fast and inexpensive path to starting up service: a partnership between the Regional Transportation Commission, owner of the Santa Cruz Branch line, and a private sector firm. TRAC recommends:

1. That the RTC staff evaluate the Study to determine the reasonableness of the private sector business opportunities it discloses.

2. Following that evaluation, TRAC urges the RTC to invite private sector rail service proposals.

The study concludes that the dinner and excursion trains, which would travel where the tracks are mostly intact, between Santa Cruz and Davenport, could probably start up rather quickly.

After announcing its interest in proposals, TRAC suggests:

3. That the RTC should look for grants to repair the bridges (rather than replace them). A relatively small grant could bring the tracks up to a 59-mph standard by adding new crossties as needed.

TRAC is convinced that getting a passenger service running ASAP is far more important than having “perfect” infrastructure. Because rail passenger service has not been available for generations, it will take time to build up a culture of using rail transit. Because the total replacement approach that public agencies typically adopt is so much more expensive, it is very difficult to receive grant funding, especially where the projected ridership is merely speculative. Deferring the environmental benefits, especially having an alternative to being stuck in traffic on the highway, is not worth the delay in getting started. 

Once a robust ridership has been demonstrated, it is much easier to secure grant funding. (It is relatively quick and easy to bring in automated equipment to do total replacement when and if it is actually needed.)

While the profit-making rail services are important, TRAC is most focused on the need for convenient rail transit. The Study shows that the subsidy needed to keep fares similar to bus fares could easily be met with a 1/8% sales tax. If rail fares were slightly higher, transit could run without a subsidy. Another funding possibility is sponsorships by local businesses, who would receive advertising on the rail vehicles and station structures.

TRAC is eager for this Study to be reviewed by the RTC Board, its staff, and private sector entities including TIG/m, Pop-Up Metro, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (SPPR), and Roaring Camp Railroads. We look forward to your comments:

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A History of Efforts to Revive Rail in Santa Cruz County, Up to Greenway and Measure D

Demonstration battery/electric car on Chestnut Street in downtown Santa Cruz.

The folks at Santa Cruz Trains have prepared a comprehensive history of efforts to revive rail passenger service in Santa Cruz County, up to the current Measure D placed on the June 7th, 2022 ballot by Santa Cruz Greenway.

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April-September 2022 Cal Rail News Online

The California Rail News for April to September 2022 is now online at This issue focuses on Measure D in Santa Cruz County, which would destroy possibilities for rail forever if passed.

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July-November California Rail News Now Online

The latest California Rail News in more than a year is now online. See

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TRAC Position Paper: How the LOSSAN Corridor Can Do More for Southern Californians

The next issue of California Rail News will carry a major article on the future of the LOSSAN Corridor by Greg Thompson, PhD and Sandra Bauer. That article will be an excerpt of a longer paper titled “How the LOSSAN Corridor Can Do More for Southern Californians” which is available now on this website.

The LOSSAN-South Corridor connecting Los Angeles with San Diego is the second most significant rail passenger corridor in the United States. Patronage in the corridor is now many times higher than it was when the state started supporting Amtrak-operated Pacific Surfliners. However, ridership has plateaued in the last several years, as train congestion has lengthened running times and increased unreliability. The basic alignment of the railroad remains that of the late 19th century single track railroad, inhibiting running time improvements and restricting capacity. It takes almost 3 hours for Surfliners to cover the 128 miles from San Diego to Los Angeles, for an average speed of 44 miles per hour.

The Caltrans Division of Rail developed plans to significantly improve the speed and capacity of the corridor, and completed environmental review of the proposed program in 2009. The improvements would allow hourly intercity trains to complete their runs from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1’50”, including 6 intermediate stops, resulting in an average end-to-end speed of 70 mph. There would be increased local commuter service, as well. 

This article’s analysis concludes that the Caltrans LOSSAN improvement program can make the LOSSAN-South corridor an effective alternative to the I-5 freeway, competing successfully with longer-distance auto travel between San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties. The project would be a significant first step in bringing the corridor up to the level of the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston. (See Intercity Passenger Trains Are Not Commuter Trains)

This paper is accessible on the TRAC Position Papers page:

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Don’t Buy New Tier 4 Locomotives

By David Schonbrunn, TRAC President

Editor’s Note: These comments were sent by TRAC’s President to Metrolink, days before their Board directed staff to find grants to fund the purchase of 10-15 new Tier 4 diesel locomotives at $10.3 million a piece.

The Train Riders Association of California (“TRAC”) is a statewide rail advocacy organization that has worked since 1984 to improve passenger rail service in California. We first wish to congratulate you [Stephanie Wiggins, outgoing Executive Director of Metrolink] on your very significant promotion to leading Metro. While you are finishing up at Metrolink, we wish to offer our thoughts on the proposed procurement of new Tier 4 locomotives, to replace aging MP36s.

We have recently been in contact with CARB’s freight division and had a wide-ranging discussion about how the emissions of locomotives have not been accurately measured, for purposes of emissions inventories and most importantly, for incentives for emissions reductions programs. A copy of the notes from that meeting are appended, along with our letter that triggered the discussion.

The problem TRAC identified is high NOx emissions at idle, because the engine doesn’t have enough load to activate the [NOx] after-treatment system. Because these locomotives spend such a large number of hours idling (itself a separate and distinct problem), they emit far more criteria pollutants than is reasonable for a very expensive low-emissions locomotive. We believe this is a flaw in the EPA Tier 4 standard itself. Because it was designed for line haul freight locomotives, the certification process duty cycle does not capture the large amounts of idling typical in commuter and intercity passenger service. We suspect current Tier 4 passenger locomotives would not meet the Tier 4 standard, if evaluated with a real-world duty cycle.

For this reason, we urge your Board to not proceed with the recommended procurement. To confirm this recommendation, we urge you to produce a specification based on the real-world Metrolink duty cycle, to enable you to evaluate whether existing locomotive models can meet Metrolink’s needs. We suspect they cannot. Meanwhile, new technologies are becoming available that leap-frog over Tier 4.

While these technologies are being commercialized, we recommend you do a pilot
project to attempt to add aftertreatment to an MP36. If successful, this would create a
viable short-term alternative to getting locked into a 25-year capital investment in new
Tier 4 locomotives, with their disappointing emissions. This would leave much more
money available for the transition to zero emissions.

Using this approach, it may be possible to skip the further procurement of new diesel
locomotives altogether. In considering Metrolink’s future path to zero emissions, we
suggest you consider the direction now being explored by the Long Island Railroad for
their unelectrified routes. (See attached article.) They will outfit existing Electric Multiple
Unit cars with batteries, and install fast charging facilities at selected stations.

Another battery approach would be Stadler’s Akku Battery Electric Multiple Units, which
recently demonstrated a 115-mile range without recharging, despite heat and cold
conditions that fully stressed the HVAC system. (See attached articles.) These trainsets
are commercially available now. We think they make far more sense than proceeding
with a $20 -$30 million dollar prototype electric locomotive.

Thank you for considering these comments. We would be pleased to answer any
questions you might have, at the phone number below.


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