By Noel T. Braymer
Recently the news website “Voice of San Diego” had a story “Oceanside’s Sudden Construction Boom Was a Long Time Coming”. The time it took for this boom was over 46 years. This article points out that central to this new development is the Oceanside Transit Center. The planning for the Oceanside Center started with one man around 1970 who was then a reserve Marine Corps Major who had just finished a tour in Vietnam. After his tour in Vietnam, he bought a donuts shop in downtown Oceanside and joined the Chamber of Commerce. Byron Nordberg had a passion for passenger trains since his childhood growing up in Chicago. His first job at 15 was cleaning steam locomotives between runs. Even in Vietnam he would ride the narrow gauge freight railroads just to ride a train. This meant he would ride on a flat car which had sandbags and machine gun crews which would be in front of the locomotive. The flatcar was needed in case the tracks were mined or the train was attacked. It was easier to replace flatcars than locomotives.
Byron started planning to convert the old Oceanside Santa Fe train station into a multi-modal transportation center before the creation of Amtrak. Multi-modal stations were unknown in California at this time and for most if not all of the United States. But he knew that this was common around much of the world. His plan called for building a hub for the local transit buses in Oceanside to terminate by the rebuilt train station. This would allow transfers between bus lines and trains. Shortly after the Transit Center opened there was a noticeable increase in ridership for transit buses in Oceanside. Since then more mini-bus hubs have been build throughout San Diego County making transfers between bus lines easier for passengers. Also included in Byron’s planning was to have Greyhound and Continental Trailways buses at the new Transit Center. It took over 13 years for Byron, the local Chamber of Commerce and the City of Oceanside to see the opening of the new Transit Center. It soon became the model for all future multi-modal transportation centers in this country. Today Trailways buses no longer run.But Bolt and Megabus buses all make sure their stops are at transit centers, usually with rail service. Greyhound does all it can to move out of its old underused bus stations over to or near transit centers..
When the Oceanside Transit Center first opened in 1984 it had one platform and one passenger track with a second track at the station. As part of Byron’s plan he had raised platforms built, 8 inches above the rail to eliminate the need for the old step boxes to board the trains. This made for faster and safer loading than by using rail level platforms. Few stations in California had such raised platforms then .Now they are standard at most station since the opening of the Oceanside Transit Center. Byron also planned for construction of a second platform. Byron told me passenger stations should always have at least 2 tracks, so that when a train was stopped at a station it didn’t create a bottleneck stopping other trains from passing. He also planned on field side platforms for both tracks and not a center at grade platform with a fence between the tracks to prevent trespassing. A pedestrian tunnel under the tracks would be available for both passengers and beach goers to safety walk under the tracks. All this was built in the years after the Transit Center opened and having either tunnels or bridges to cross tracks is now standard at most of the train stations built since the Oceanside Transit Center opened in 1984.Byron’s future plans also included the construction of Diesel-Multiple Unit (DMU) train service between Oceanside and Escondido. The location of the DMU tracks next to the main tracks for Amtrak trains was planned out. This is where the Sprinter DMU trains now terminate at Oceanside. His plan was to start with a single track service with long passenger tracks for meets. This is how it is done now. Byron also wrote the original feasibility study for the creation of the Coaster commuter service. His schedule for one reverse commute train in the mornings and evening allowed for on additional train during rush hour using existing equipment.
Byron was part of the founding of LOSSAN. LOSSAN began as a network of city council members of towns along the railroad between Los Angeles and San Diego. In the early 1980’s there proposal by former Amtrak officials to build a Japanese style “Bullet Train to replace the then San Diegan trains. There were many concerns about the impacts to communities of construction a new fully grade separated railroad to local residents. The promoters of this project often gave contradictory stories of the plans for this project to officials of the different cities along the route. This was found out when the different city council members got together to compare notes of what the “Bullet Train” promoters had told their city. The leader of this network of city council members was Walter Gilbert of the city of Oceanside. His rail adviser from the City of Oceanside’s Transportation Commission was Byron Nordberg.
Byron in the early 1990’s worked as an consultant for Metrolink. This is where he was working up to his death at 61 in 1997.
From the very beginning, Byron’s justification for building the new Transit Center in Oceanside was to draw new development to downtown Oceanside. This is what got the support for his plan with his other members of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce and finally the Oceanside City Council. Downtown Oceanside is a short walk from the beach in Oceanside. In the 70’s and 80’s downtown Oceanside was a dump. There were several vacant lots in the area. There were many dingy bars and many nights there were dozens of streetwalkers out on the main street of town. Crime was high as well. The centerpiece of the city’s redevelopment plan was the transit center and the construction of a beach resort hotel to bring in tourists and encourage more people to visit Oceanside. This didn’t happen overnight and it took years to get the first hotel built after several false starts. But now major construction is routine in downtown Oceanside. Many of the empty lots have new buildings and the run down businesses replaced. There is plenty of new housing near downtown on once underused industrial property. And lots of people now get to downtown Oceanside by Amtrak, Coaster, and Sprinter trains as well as by transit and Greyhound and Amtrak thruway buses.