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By Noel T. Braymer


This is a map at San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot of the track layout around the station showing where to catch Pacific Surfliner, Coaster, and San Diego Trolley trains. Included is a map of the 3  Trolley Lines and where the Santa Fe Depot is on the Trolley Lines. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

The San Diego Trolley light rail service since 1981 has been an icon of San Diego. Its ridership continues to grow compared to declining transit ridership in other American cities. The three Trolley Lines: Blue, Orange and Green connect with each other, often with easy connection with the trains timed to meet each other for the connection. This makes using the Trolley easier to travel around the San Diego Metro area. There are 3 Trolley hubs for connecting between lines.


This is the Trolley Transfer Station at 12th and Imperial with connections to all 3 lines. Seen here sharing the same platform is a connection between the southbound Blue line to San Ysidro from San Diego with the westbound Orange Line to San Diego from El Cajon. These connections are timed to make the connections as quickly as possible. There is also a connections  here between the northbound Blue Line and the eastbound Orange Line. The Green Line can also make connections to the other lines at this station from a nearby track.


This is a connection in progress for passengers from the northbound Green Line train on the right at the Grossmont station in La Mesa to the westbound Gold Line train heading to San Diego. There are also connections  here with the eastbound Gold Line trains to the southbound Green Line Train.


This is the connection from the southbound Green line Trolley seen in the background with the Orange Line train seen the the foreground which terminate at the Santa Fe Depot. The Orange line trains depart south ahead of the southbound Green Line trains. For connections from northbound Green Line trains passenger get off the at the track to the right and walk to the nearby Orange Line train.


The 1915 Santa Fe Depot building surrounded by new development at this growing transportation center.

Most of the times the Trolleys are on time and the connections can be made while the trains are in the station at the same time. If a train is late, the on time train departs on time and the connection made with the next available train. Headways run 7 and half minutes 0n the Blue Line and 15 minutes for the Orange and Green Lines most of the day with the San Diego Trolley.

The San Diego Trolley recently finished a $660 million dollar overhaul of its two oldest lines, the Blue and the Orange. Stations were improved, electrification improved and new cars bought with low floor loading to speed up loading for all passengers including the handicapped. Coming next is the extension of the Blue Line to the University City area by 2021. This is a $2 billion dollar, 11 mile extension of the Blue Line from the Santa Fe Depot up to Old Town and University City by  area of the University of California at San Diego. This will include several miles of new construction north of Old Town. This will serve the most traveled activity center in San Diego. Much of this route will be shared with the existing right of way between Old Town to Highway 52 with the Coaster and Pacific Surfliner trains. This project includes new double tracking for 2.6 miles between Morena just north of Old Town and Elvira near the 52 highway for the Coaster and Surfliners. This will also include a new double track bridge over the San Diego River at Old Town and track straightening at Elvira. This is part of a larger project to double track most of the railroad in San Diego County and speed up service with more passenger trains.


There are several other double tracking projects which by 2020 will bring double tracking to almost 80% of the 60 miles of railroad between San Diego and the Orange County border. Most of these will be for new double track bridges over lagoons and rivers which will connect to existing double tracked segments in San Diego County. These include new bridges at Los Penasquitos Lagoon by 2017, San Elijo Lagoon by 2018, Batiquitos Lagoon by 2019 and the San Luis Rey River with a mile of new double tracking in the city of Oceanside. This will double track all of the railroad on the Surf Line in the city of Oceanside and connect it to double tracking in most of Camp Pendleton. At the Pionsettia Coaster station by 2017 will be a new pedestrian tunnel to replace the grade crossings  on the double tracks at the station. This will allow Amtrak and freight trains to travel through the station while Coaster trains are stopped at the station. Because of the current pedestrian crossings, other trains have to wait until all passengers have left the platforms before traveling through Pointsettia. This tunnel will increase the number of trains that can be run through the station. These improvement are needed for planned additional trains.

In Oceanside major improvements are underway at the station. This will include a third track and platform for Coaster and Metrolink Trains to layover and load passenger while freeing up the 2 main tracks at the station for trains running through the station. This work is expected to be finished by 2017. This is needed for the additional trains planned in the near future. With this additional rail traffic, Oceanside is going ahead to upgrade its 5 grade crossing to Quite Zone status. This will mean by 2018 that trains won’t have to blow their horns going through crossings unless there is a problems such as a person or vehicle at the grade crossing. This will greatly reduce the noise level in downtown Oceanside from train traffic.



The Green Line Trolley station  on the left next to the Convention Center on the right and the tracks for a future Coaster Convention Center/PETCO Park station.

Another project underway is the construction of a transit center in Camp Pendleton with a stop for the Coaster Trains. Camp Pendleton is a major employer and traffic generator in northern San Diego County. This transit center will also have the North County Transit buses that run through the base connect there to the Coaster. There are also plans to build a new Coaster Station in downtown San Diego next to the Convention Center and PETCO Park which is the Padres Baseball team’s home field. There are long term plans to build a new main train station in San Diego by the city airport. This would be the terminus for High Speed Rail in San Diego sometime after 2030. Amtrak and Coaster trains are also expected to stop by the new airport station. This is part of a larger plan to have all passengers arrive and depart at the San Diego Airport from the north end of the airport near the I-5 freeway, train and Trolley tracks. The first part of this plan is already in effect with a new Consolidated Rental Car Agency built at the north end of the airport. For now rental car customers and people parking at the north end of the airport ride shuttle buses on a new airport road to bypass the heavy traffic to the terminals on surface streets. In the future the plan is to move all parking to the north end and have all passengers to travel to new terminals at the current terminals site with a people mover under the runway. This airport train station will include Trolley, Coaster, Amtrak and future High Speed Rail passengers.


This is the lonely shuttle bus stop next to the San Diego Airport which is a block away from the Middletown Green Line Trolley Station.

So far the only new plans to connect rail passengers to the airport are to offer free shuttle bus service using the parking lot shuttles for Trolley passengers too. This is at a bus stop a block away from the Middletown Trolley station which is next to the runway at the San Diego Airport. Most people have no idea that this service exists and there are few transfers between Trolley Passengers to these shuttle buses. There is no information about this airport shuttle connection inside the airport terminals or on San Diego’s MTS transit agency website which operates the Trolley or at the Middletown Trolley station. A much better near term solution would be to extend the existing 992 bus which runs from downtown San Diego to the airport up to Old Town. Old Town is already a major transit center and a terminus and transfer point for several bus lines. It is only a couple of miles from the airport, is served by Amtrak, Coaster, Green Line Trolley trains and will be a major stop for the Blue extension to University City. The 992 buses coming from Old Town should be able to use the new airport bypass road to avoid airport traffic. It might even stop at the Middletown station to pick up and drop off transferring Trolley passengers. This with expanded Coaster service expected in the next 4 years would greatly increase the number of passengers taking the trains to get to the airport.

One corridor that has poor connections by rail is between San Diego and the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. The Inland Empire has decent Metrolink weekday service with up to 8 trains from Orange County. But only a couple of these trains get as far as Oceanside. The problem is single tracking in southern Orange County limits the number of trains that now can be run between San Diego and Orange County. There is a simple and economical solutions to this. As it stands now at least 7 of the existing Orange County-Inland Empire Metrolink trains could connect with Pacific Surfliner trains, with a wait in most cases in less than an hour. This could be improved with some changes to scheduling. The main issues are developing joint ticketing and marketing of this new connection. As it stands now Amtrak already honors some Coaster and Metrolink tickets on their trains. Adding connections between Amtrak and Metrolink is a simple solution to expanding ridership and revenues for  both rail services.