Something for Santa Cruz Railfans

The North American Railcar Operators Association plans an excursion the weekend of May 4 and 5 on the the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railway.

Railroad motorcars are those short, specialized track inspection vehicles like the vehicle shown below. Railroads have since replaced them with hybrid road-rail vehicles for this kind of work — those trucks that can operate on the road but also have flanged steel wheels that drop down for railroad operation. A lot of those old motorcars have been purchased for private use, and groups of these private railcar owners take their mini locomotives around the country on excursions like the one planned for Santa Cruz County.


The May 4 excursion will travel from Davenport to Watsonville. These groups typically travel between 15 MPH to 25 MPH, with stops at every intersection (which they “cork,” just like big bike rides), and frequent stops for scenic vistas and bathroom breaks. They plan an extended stop at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on both days to allow a close look at the railcars for visiting tourists.

A large group of 40 cars is expected for this Santa Cruz excursion organized by Pacific Railcar Operators of San Jose, CA.

With the anticipated slow speed of this excursion, it occurs to me that a group of cyclists can parallel this railcar group on their tour of coastal Santa Cruz County.

No passenger rail service in Santa Cruz for 2013

In other Santa Cruz railroad news, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) and Iowa Pacific Holdings, doing business locally as the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railway, announced that new passenger rail operations in the area will be pursued following completion of work on bridge structures along the 32-mile rail line, deferring planned 2013 passenger rail service.

As part of the purchase agreement between the RTC and the previous property owner, Union Pacific, $5.3 million in funding was set aside to upgrade a number of structures on the line. The California Transportation Commission approved the purchase agreement and use of the state Proposition 116 funds for both the purchase and the upgrades. The RTC will proceed with work on both timber and steel trestles beginning this summer. Neither freight nor passenger rail service will be able to pass the La Selva trestle while the structure is upgraded. Due to this constraint, the railway will concentrate on freight service operations in south county during that period.

Rail freight service is currently provided to a number of companies for commodities such as lumber, agricultural products, and biofuels. Rail freight traffic and the tax revenue collected augment the county’s tax base thereby contributing toward vital services for residents.

In addition, planning is underway to build a bicycle and pedestrian trail (“rail trail”) alongside the tracks, where it can be accommodated safely within the corridor and in conjunction with freight/passenger rail services. A draft Master Plan for planned 50-mile Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (MBSST) Network was released for public comment in late 2012. The rail trail will form the backbone of the broader MBSST project. Next steps include the release of the environmental document in the spring of this year and final Master Plan adoption in fall. The trail will be constructed in segments as funding becomes available.

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