Santa Paula Branch Line


Today, the Santa Paula Branch Line (SPBL) extends for 32 miles from the East Ventura / Montalvo train station, through the Cities of Ventura, Santa Paula, and Fillmore, to the unincorporated community of Piru, with 29 miles of active track. Originally built in 1887 by the Southern Pacific railroad, the SPBL remains an active short line railroad with freight, tourist and excursion, film and television, and research and development rail operations.

The Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) acquired the SPBL railroad in 1995 for use as a multimodal corridor, including freight rail, bicycle and hiking trail, pipelines and utilities, recreational parks, and to preserve the corridor for possible future commuter rail service.

In 2001, VCTC entered into a 20-year operations lease with Fillmore & Western Railway that expired in June 2021. During that time, Fillmore & Western operated tourist and excursion trains and supported television and film production, such as the Santa Train and Pumpkinliner. With the expiration of the Fillmore & Western lease, VCTC issued a Request for Proposals for Rail Operator Service. In December 2021, VCTC executed a Railroad Lease and Operations Agreement with Sierra Northern Railway (SNR) for a 35-year term. Under the Agreement, Sierra Northern is responsible to operate and maintain the railroad and the right-of-way. The underlying purpose of the Agreement is to provide for economic activity in the Heritage Valley by continuing to support rail operations and preserving the corridor for a future trail by dedicating lease, license, and permit revenues to ongoing maintenance, while avoiding the continued expense of other transportation funds on the Santa Paula Branch Line. Freight rail service reduces truck traffic at a rate of four trucks for every rail car and provides an opportunity to lower greenhouse gas emissions associated with goods movement.

The Agreement defines roles and responsibilities and grants to Sierra Northern the exclusive rights to operate the SPBL for Railroad Purposes, including tourist and freight services, film and television production, and storage and transload services. Sierra Northern Railway conducts regular railroad inspections, makes repairs and improvements to the train signals and railroad tracks, conducts weed abatement and other right-of-way maintenance activities, and conducts rail operations.

Sierra Northern provides freight and transload services and supports television and film production. More information is available through Sierra Northern’s website, The Movie Railroad.

A sister company to Sierra Northern, Mendocino Railways, will operate tourist and excursion trains and services. In March 2023, Mendocino Railways launched the Sunburst Railbikes on the SPBL. A variety of seasonal and excursion train services will be developed in the future. For more information on railbike operations, click here.


As of June 10th 2024, VCTC delegated Right-of-Entry (ROE) responsibilities to Sierra Northern Railway (SNR) to streamline the process by providing applicants with a single point of contact for ROE administration, railroad operations and safety coordination.

As the SPBL railroad operator responsible for safety oversight, SNR is tasked with granting ROE permits for access to the SPBL Right-of-Way (ROW) from Bristol Rd crossing to Piru Station. The SPBL west of Bristol Rd crossing is managed by SCRAA as the rail yard Metrolink Montalvo Station (SPBL parcel map for reference:

ROE permits grant short term access permission, limited to a maximum duration of a 60-day term, for work which does not impact or alter the property or railroad infrastructure. Activities in the railroad ROW which can be authorized by an ROE includes: certain construction work permitted by VCTC, temporary parking/storage, utility maintenance, event access, etc. For long term agreements, such as land leases, utility licenses or private crossings please contact VCTC.

To apply for a Right-of-Entry permit through Sierra Northern Railway, submit an ROE application package containing all items in the checklist below to Bobbie Lara,

ROE Checklist:

  1. Completed ROE template contract: Download Template
  2. Certificate of Insurance (COI) meeting all requirements of Article 7 of the ROE template contract.
  3. Scope of Work (SOW) including map/diagram showing location and size of ROE area (SPBL parcel map for reference:
  4. Payment of Applicable Fees, payable to Sierra Northern Railway.

For questions to VCTC, please contact Andrew Kent at or (805) 642-1591 ext. 102. For questions to Sierra Northern Railway, please contact Matt Blackburn at or (530) 490-1446.


The Santa Paula Branch Line is an active railroad. Locomotives are required by law to sound train horns for at least 15 seconds in advance of all public and private crossings. While the horn blasts can seem disruptive, they are a federal requirement put in place to warn pedestrians, vehicles, and those who might be in the railroad right-of-way that a train is coming. For more information about railroad safety, visit Operation Lifesaver at

Railroad tracks and rights-of-way are considered private property, and entry to the railroad right-of-way without express permission is considered trespass. If you have questions, concerns, or see unsafe activity near a train or on the SPBL right-of-way, please contact Sierra Northern Railway at (888) 864-6995.

If you require access to the SPBL right-of-way for maintenance of utilities, access to adjacent properties, or for any other reason, a lease or right-of-entry permit is required, depending on the length of the need to access the property. Please contact the Ventura County Transportation Commission at (805) 642-1591 to discuss leasing and right-of-entry options.

For more information about railroad safety, visit Operation Lifesaver at


Rail cars are sometimes stored on the SPBL railroad as part of railroad operations. Revenue from the storage of rail cars contributes to maintaining and improving the condition of the railroad and right-of-way. Rail car storage also contributes to efficient and safe operations of the national railroad network.

Rail Car Storage refers to rail cars owned by a third party being stored on the SPBL. Rail Car Storage is anticipated to be used in the early stages of Sierra Northern operations to generate revenue while the freight, tourist/excursion, and movie businesses are further developed. The Agreement was constructed to mitigate the impact of Rail Car Storage by prohibiting storage within incorporated cities and existing communities as defined by the County of Ventura (namely Saticoy and Piru), or within 150 feet of legal public and private railroad crossings. The Agreement also prohibits Rail Car Storage of rail cars containing hazardous materials.

Passenger and freight rail cars and locomotives owned by Sierra Northern Railway and its sister company, Mendocino Railway, may be parked on the railroad, including within incorporated cities, as part of regular railroad operations. These types of cars are not considered Railroad Car Storage.

As a result of the severe winter storms in January 2023 and resulting damage to the Sespe Creek Overflow bridge, approximately 100 rail cars are currently being stored on the SPBL in an unincorporated area west of Fillmore. The storage of these cars is temporary, and every effort is being made to repair the bridge and restore service connectivity in a timely manner to allow the cars to be moved to another less visible location, until the rail cars are placed back in service by their owner, with such timing depending on construction schedules and demand for the rail cars.


When VCTC acquired the Santa Paula Branch Line in 1995, plans included building a trail for active transportation and recreation. In 2000, VCTC adopted a Master Plan and Environmental Impact Report for the “SPBL Recreational Multi-Use Trail.” Sections of the trail have been constructed in the cities of Santa Paula and Fillmore and the Piru community. In April 2022, VCTC renewed its goal to build-out the SPBL trail, with the Commission having adopted a goal to “Reinvigorate the process to complete the Santa Paula Branch Line (SPBL) multi-use path.” The SPBL Trail provides an important opportunity to invest in active transportation for the residents of the Santa Clara River Valley, while reducing vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to initiate an update to the Master Plan are underway, with a focus on connections to housing, employment opportunities, and transit, and an emphasis on engagement with neighboring landowners, the agriculture community, disadvantaged communities, potential future trail users, and the broader community. The Master Plan Update would also incorporate the recommendations of the SPBL Trail Compatibility Survey and Federal Railroad Administration’s Best Practices for Rails with Trails. More information will be forthcoming soon from VCTC.

Santa Paula Branch Line Recreational Trail Master Plan (2000)
Santa Paula Branch Line Master Plan (1996)


Please direct your questions or comments regarding the Santa Paula Branch Line to, or to the comment box below:

Santa Paula Branch Line Community Meeting – August 15, 2023
Presentation Materials