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SANTA CRUZ >> Minnesota-based rail operator Progressive Rail plans to stop its freight service in the Watsonville area and pull out of its contract with the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, commission staff said Wednesday.

Vandalism and trespassing on the rail line were the company’s reasons, said Regional Transportation Commission Chairman and County Supervisor Bruce McPherson. 

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Progressive Rail leaders could not be reached for comment Thursday. Commission staff are trying to resolve Progressive’s complaints.

Progressive Rail’s departure would be the second time in two years that a rail operator has left the county before the end of its contract. In 2018, Iowa Pacific left with $80,000 of unpaid fees to the commission and unfinished repairs to the line, commission staff said.

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission is expected to decide this fall on what type of transit to put on the county’s 32-mile rail corridor, pictured here from La Selva Beach. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local file)

In June 2018, the commission approved a 10-year contract with Progressive Rail with an 8-4 vote. 

Local leaders want to keep the contract until the transportation commission votes on an analysis of options for high-capacity public transit on the county’s rail line. A final decision on that study, called the Transit Corridors Alternatives Analysis, is expected in the fall.

“At present, freight customers will continue to be served by [St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, the Progressive Rail subsidiary] and there should be no interruption of service,” according to a statement from commission staff. 

Should negotiations fail, commission leaders plan to wait for the analysis’ completion before consideration of a new operator, staff and McPherson said.

Read Santa Cruz Local’s previous stories on the Transit Corridors Alternatives Analysis:

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the vote count in the June 2018 regional transportation commission meeting.

Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.