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Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel file The Southern Pacific tracks pass by some of the most scenic real estate in the county as the wind down the coast from Davenport.

SANTA CRUZ -- Rain or shine, the county's long-awaited celebration of the Branch Rail Line acquisition is finally going forward. After all, what's one more obstacle after a decade of waiting?

Saturday, a series of one-hour whistle-stop parties begin in the morning in Watsonville, and continue down the 31-mile line to a big bash on the Westside of Santa Cruz, where hundreds of locals have signed up for free train rides from Santa Cruz north a couple miles and back.

History lessons are on tap at several locations. Music and refreshments also are being served, and there will be history lessons. Politicians are involved, so speech-making will occur throughout the day.

The line's $14.2 million purchase was finalized last month. It capped a decade of debate, with local officials seeing the line as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to acquire high-value coastal real estate at a relative bargain, possibly to use as the backbone of a multiuse trail or even commuter rail.

"With so much land already developed, the corridor from Davenport to Watsonville is a way to get great sustainable transportation options, from rail service to a coastal rail trail," said Piet Canin, vice president of Ecology Action's transportation group. "Where else in California do you have a corridor like this along the coast?"

The county Regional Transportation Commission spearheaded the purchase, but party planning is being left to local communities. In Watsonville, that includes free train whistles for children, the Aptos High School choir and breakfast muffins.

"It's going to be a real neat thing once they do improvements on the line," said Shaz Lint of the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce, looking forward to a day when passenger trains return.

A holiday-themed tourist train will begin operations on Sunday. The "Train to Christmastown" is being operated by the newly established Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway, with tickets already on sale.

That train runs from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk up the North Coast. The county transportation agency is also running a series of preview trips on Saturday, and has given away 800 tickets. The trips run just two miles from Santa Cruz north and back. The rest of the line needs repairs before passenger services are considered elsewhere.

The Aptos stop will celebrate a storied event in local history. In 1961, a proposed zoning change would have opened up Aptos Village for installation of a cement plant. Lucile Aldrich helped from the Aptos Ladies Tuesday Evening Society, and Aldrich later tied herself to the railroad tracks, "Perils of Pauline"-style, in protest.

The success of that 1961 protest was celebrated with a short Memorial Day parade. That parade later became the World's Shortest Parade still celebrated in Aptos on the Fourth of July. Planners will hand out information about Aldrich at the celebration and representatives from the Aptos High Mountain Bike Team and Santa Cruz Cycle Club will be on hand, as well as representatives from two local development projects: the Aptos Village Plan and the makeover of the Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center.

"Not only will we have festivities but we'll have some community information," said Adele Talmadge of Talmadge Construction, who is helping to organize the event.

The train also will check in at Capitola and Live Oak. Peet's coffee is being served in Capitola, free whistles are being handed out and local officials and a historian are expected to speak. The Live Oak stop includes the Soquel High jazz band and children's art projects.

"Everybody's excited," said Lisa Murphy, Capitola's administrative services director. "The Branch Rail Line comes right through the heart of our community."

The final Santa Cruz stop at the Swift Street complex includes Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, as well as music by Kuzanga Marimba Band and Trout Fishing in America.

Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsdude

IF YOU GO

The Branch Rail bash

When: Saturday:
9-10 a.m.: Watsonville, Beach and Walker streets
10-11 a.m.: Aptos, near Bayview Hotel on Soquel Drive
11 a.m. to noon: Capitola, Monterey and Park avenues
Noon to 1 p.m.: Live Oak, behind Simpkins Family Swim Center near 17th Avenue
1-6 p.m.: Santa Cruz, Ingalls Street near Swift Street