This action by the RTC follows a solicitation of proposals to operate on the branch line after the previous operator Sierra Northern revoked their operating agreement. Showing strong interest, five local and national rail operators were interviewed, each with their own unique strengths. Iowa Pacific was unanimously selected.
Iowa Pacific representatives provided a presentation to the RTC at the meeting and indicated that they foresee a phased approach to operations. The first phase would be focused on freight transport, the second on passenger services from Santa Cruz north where the tracks are ready for passenger service and the third phase could entail service south of Santa Cruz and beyond, potentially connecting to San Jose, the Bay Area and/or Monterey County. Included in the initial passenger operations is a Polar Express service, that has proved to be popular in many other areas and brings in visitors and new revenues during the off peak period.
Commissioner Neal Coonerty, representing the county district where initial passenger rail service would most likely begin noted, "I am pleased that the RTC has selected a rail operator that has a solid plan to provide freight and passenger service. I look forward to getting on board the first train to Davenport."
Big Trees/Roaring Camp Railroad representatives at the meeting expressed support of the selection, noting it is a critical step toward public ownership of the rail line. The Santa Cruz Seaside Company provided a letter of support for the acquisition, which also outlined issues to be addressed regarding trains in the beach area near the Boardwalk.