Rail tracks run down the center of Walker Street in Watsonville.
The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and Union Pacific agreed on a $14.3 million price tag Thursday for the rail line that runs between Davenport and Watsonville.
That step should lead to public acquisition of the 32-mile Union Pacific rail line.
Plans for passenger service and a proposed bicycle and pedestrian trail have been discussed, though the commission is currently concentrating on work connected with the acquisition, according to Deputy Director Luis Mendez and Public Information Coordinator Karena Pushnik.
“When the line becomes a public asset,” Mendez said, “it will be up to the public to determine how the line is used.”
“Currently, future usages are not on the table,” Pushnik added. “The first step is to acquire the line.”
Right now, the commission is working to complete the due diligence work associated with the sale, which includes a hazardous material assessment, appraisals, lease investigation and forming a business management plan. The commission hopes to complete these tasks by the end of the calendar year.
Mendez listed preservation of the line and the continuation of freight service among the commission’s goals for the acquisition. Current freight traffic carries mostly coal into and cement out of the Cemex plant in Davenport about three times per week. Union Pacific will continue these runs until the purchase is finalized. Under public ownership, freight service will be carried out by a short line operator. Pushnik said several local short line operators have approached the RTC regarding the operation.
Passenger service along the line has generated interest for some time. Currently the RTC is coordinating efforts with the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, which has explored the possibility of a connector to the Caltrain mainline at the Pajaro station in Watsonville. Plans for another Amtrak connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles have also been discussed, which could require an upgrade of the Pajaro station.
Local groups including Friends of the Rail Trail have long expressed interest in the development of a bicycle/pedestrian trail located in the rail corridor. The group praised Thursday’s acquisition.
“We’re very excited to see that there is finally an agreement at hand,” said member David Wright. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to raise money for the development of the trail.”
Wright cited a number of foundations that help fund rail trail projects, and corporate sponsors and trail supporters like Assemblyman John Laird and Congressman Sam Farr as eventual funding sources.
“We expect the trail to be funded by mostly private donors with some government money,” Wright said. He added that an earlier cost estimate of $1 million per mile should prove accurate, and that the group is confident it can raise such funds to build the trail.
Pushnik said the commission has endeavored to keep the public informed regarding future developments of the rail line.
“The plan is to put all documents related to the acquisition in the public domain 30 days before a decision is made,” she said. “And there will be a lot of public input throughout the process. All of our meetings are public, and it’s a goal of the commission to have an informed public.”
*Photos by Tarmo Hannula*
(Published in 8/12/08 edition)
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