January 26, 2022
Dear Supervisor McPherson and members of the SCCRTC:
We write you today to urge you not to proceed with any efforts to abandon freight service on the Felton Branch Rail Line or the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. These rail lines ensure there is a rail connection for Santa Cruz County and the rest of California, which may be critical in providing an essential route to the San Lorenzo Valley and other areas during future fire emergencies related to climate change, severe drought and catastrophic wildfires.
New technologies and innovative solutions to climate-driven emergencies are in development in California and beyond. For example, fire trains are beginning to see use to help fight major wildfires. This was the case in Northern California during the 2021 Dixie Fire. Fire trains use water and retardant, hauled by rail in tanker cars. The trains also include firefighting professionals who battle wildfires from the train, helping to protect watersheds and critical infrastructure.
Freight use abandonment of either rail line will lead to railbanking, which would result in tearing out the tracks, thus eliminating a potentially critical tool in the years ahead as we learn to adapt to the new realities of climate change.
As you may be aware, there are areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains that are only accessed via the rail line, such as within Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and the Pogonip open space area.
Coupled with new technologies, such as fire trains that are under study in California, is major new funding for wildfire prevention and protection that is being developed by both the state and federal governments. It is important for Santa Cruz County to maximize options for future resources and to not get left behind in funding and policy decisions that could potentially benefit our region.
We urge you to maintain the Felton Branch Rail Line and the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line as critical infrastructure for our community.
Robert Gray, Fire Chief, Felton Fire District
Dan Walters, Fire Chief, Zayante Fire District
Stacie Brownlee, Fire Chief, Ben Lomond Fire District
Mark Bingham, Fire Chief, Boulder Creek Fire District
Jim Anderson, Vice Chair, Felton Fire District
Bob Locatelli, Fire Director, Boulder Creek Fire District
Sam Robustelli, Fire Director, Boulder Creek Fire District