LA SELVA BEACH -- Local transportation officials are set to award a multimillion-dollar contract to repair half the bridges along 31 miles of railroad track running the length of Santa Cruz County.
The job would take much of the line out of commission, nixing planned spring passenger service and threatening holiday-themed winter excursions. The work will involve repairs to about 20 local railroad bridges, including major overhauls of well-known local trestles in La Selva Beach and Rio del Mar.
"Sometimes you have to close a road while it's under repair," said Luis Mendez, deputy director of the county Regional Transportation Commission. "That's the situation here. We have to close the railroad track for a period of time."
The commission paid $14.2 million for the line last year, securing an additional $5.3 million in state funding for anticipated repairs.
Iowa Pacific runs the line, through the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railway brand. Company Vice President Kevin Busath said freight service would still operate in the Watsonville area, which is minimally affected by the work.
Busath said he won't know until the contract is awarded if the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railway can realistically plan to run the Train to Christmas Town this year. The company is looking for some momentum after the 2012 version got off to slower-than-expected start.
Iowa Pacific originally sought the rights to run a Polar Express-themed
"We were a little disappointed. We got a late start, so we didn't have a lot of lead time for marketing," Busath said. "We think the market has a lot more potential."
Busath said Train to Christmas Town -- which competes with Roaring Camp Railroads' Holiday Lights Train -- definitely would be back in 2014.
As part of the purchase deal, the Regional Transportation Commission and Iowa Pacific have committed to running passenger service on the line. That could be expanded in the future, though Busath said commuter rail, which is sought by some local residents, is a long way from becoming a reality.
One of the primary upcoming repairs is on the La Selva Beach trestle, which soars over a beach-side gully and needs major work, including to its weight-bearing towers.
Others up for repair are a trestle near Hidden Beach Park in Rio del Mar and another north of the Seascape Beach Resort, as well as a bridge near Antonelli Pond near Santa Cruz. The trestle in Capitola Village also needs work.
While the Train to Christmas Town operated only on a short stretch on the northern end of the line, the work would prevent operators from getting equipment and cars to where they need to be to operate the line.
"The La Selva (Beach) bridge is going to require a significant amount of work, so there will be a time period where you can't use the bridge while the work is being done," Mendez said. "Basically the entire bridge needs to be dismantled."
The contract for repairs likely would go out near the end of March, Mendez said.
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