Santa Cruz looks at turning steel rails into glass pipes

23 November 2013 by Steve Blum
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It moves even faster underground.

Santa Cruz County has 32-mile long rail line, stretching from Davenport on the north coast, south through Santa Cruz, Watsonville and connecting to a major north-south route in Pajaro, just over the Monterey County line. It’s now owned by the Regional Transportation Commission, which plans to keep using it for rail transportation and add a parallel bike and pedestrian trail. And now, maybe, a fiber optic backbone.

Creating a Santa Cruz rail-trail-fiber corridor was one of dozens of ideas floated at Civinomicon in Santa Cruz this weekend, and it gained traction with both local officials and the more than one hundred people that turned out for the three day civic hackathon. It’s been published as an initiatve on – the Santa Cruz start-up that organised the event – and the discussion will continue online.

There are a couple of possible approaches to making it happen. It’ll take 20 years or more to build out the trail portion of the project, given the money that’s available. Any time that work involves digging into the ground – which is most of the time – it’s an opportunity to install empty conduit, that can later be stitched together with other segments and used to build a fiber network. It’s inexpensive – in the hundred thousand dollar range – but haphazard and likely to take a long time to produce results.

The alternative is for the RTC to either front the cost – in the millions of dollars range – of installing fiber or conduit ahead of trail construction or find private sector partners to provide the investment. The payback comes from leasing conduit or dark fiber, and providing other broadband services along the route.

The RTC says that half the people in Santa Cruz County live within a mile of the rail line. That’s an attractive statistic for transportation and telecommunications infrastructure alike.