Four local engineers who drove the last trains on the Santa Cruz Branch Line north of Watsonville oppose passenger rail
Author: Run, not drive.
Date: 07-14-2021 - 10:02
Published on Jul 14, 2021
Four local engineers who drove the last trains on the Santa Cruz Branch Line north of Watsonville oppose passenger rail on the line and support the trail proposal advocated by Santa Cruz County Greenway as the safest, most effective, and affordable option for the community.
Greenway is advocating to replace the 32 miles of unused tracks with dedicated paths for pedestrians and cyclists as the backbone of an improved countywide active transportation network, while preserving the possibility of future rail transit through railbanking.
“There’s not enough right-of-way on both sides of the corridor to accommodate pedestrians, bicycles, mom’s with baby carriages, and those in wheelchairs while a train is running on tracks nearby,” said Dave McNussen, Santa Cruz County resident and engineer for 37 years for Southern Pacific Railroad, including the Santa Cruz Branch Line. “Look at the Capitola Trestle which is not wide enough for pedestrians, bicyclists, and a train. And the same is true for the protected slough areas in south county. You can’t have a safe route if you detour onto San Andreas Road and West Beach St. It’s not safe and it’s not financially feasible.” Safety is a major motivator for the train engineers’ support for the Greenway—which is an off-street multi-lane trail down the center of the rail corridor without detours onto dangerous streets.
Existing trestles would be used in order to take advantage of the flat corridor, allowing ease of travel for the disabled, and safer, shorter commute times for workers.
According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, in 2018, Santa Cruz County ranked 3rd highest in bicycle accidents out of the 58 counties in the state, with 127 victims killed or injured. “Having worked on passenger trains for 20 of my 37 years in the railroad business, I know what things cost,” said Bill Rosenoff, Santa Cruz County resident and engineer for Southern Pacific and Amtrak. “The Regional Transportation Commission has estimated that it will cost $1.3 billion over 30 years to construct and operate a passenger train. Where are we going to get that money? I support railroads, but passenger rail in Santa Cruz is a complete boondoggle. A better way is Greenway.”
The financially infeasible train plan calls for a passenger train on one track that will have three different sidings for passing. One track limits the frequency of trains and electronic collision detection can shut down the whole system when malfunctions occur. The tracks also cross 38 streets in the county, including major thoroughfares like Lee Rd, W. Beach, Ohlone Parkway, Walker St, Monterey Ave, Trout Gulch, 47th, 41st, 38th, 30th, 17th, 7th, Seabright, the Wharf, Almar, Fair, and Swift, contributing to back-ups at commute times on local streets.
“No one in the county has any idea how to run a passenger train,” said Bob Bloom, Santa Cruz County resident and engineer for Southern Pacific and Union Pacific for 30 years, including the Santa Cruz Branch Line. “Nearly all the tracks will need to be replaced. Modern switching and collision detection systems would need to work perfectly every day. For a county with no experience, it amounts to a costly project 20 years in the future with little chance of success. With few riders, what’s the point? We should strive to do the things we can reasonably expect to succeed, like improving the Metro bus system on which we already spend $50 million per year.”
Fifteen years ago, freight trains on the Santa Cruz Branch Line generally ran at night and crept along at 10-15 MPH through dense residential areas. The notion that passenger trains will speed through the narrow corridor next to a pathway with pedestrians, cyclists, and children is dangerous and ill-advised.
“Safety and right-of-way clearance are always the most important aspects of any rail operation,” said Carl Wulf, Santa Cruz County resident and former Union Pacific engineer. “With the current configuration and number of grade crossings, any attempt to create a commuter rail line will not work.” Carl also emphasized, “Maintenance is very expensive in the railroad industry for both equipment and right-of-way. Maintenance is continuous, not a one-time shot. As a rail fan, I would love to see trains rolling on the tracks, but in this case, it makes no financial or public safety sense. This county can’t afford it and we should never base our hopes on one-time grants and government handouts.”
“It’s easy to see for those of us that drove trains on the corridor for many years that it’s not wide enough for both a train and trail,” stressed Bill Rosenoff. “We have a tremendous opportunity to build a world class Greenway and enable so many people to be safe, healthy and active every day. Let’s grab this chance to create a 32 mile trail from Davenport to Watsonville, and imagine a future where our children and grandchildren will thank us for the foresight in preserving this most beautiful pathway.”