By Noel T. Braymer
There is constant construction planned in San Diego County to upgrade tracks and stations to support more and hopefully faster rail passenger service in San Diego County. As of now up to 50 trains a day run one way along the coast between Oceanside and San Diego. Current plans call for up to 67 trains by 2020. Today that includes 24 Pacific Surfliner trains and 22 Coaster trains. By 2020 that number should be 26 Surfliners and 30 Coasters which by 2030 it goes to 36 Surfliner and 54 Coaster trains. There will also be additional freight and Metrolink service planned in the future. San Diego County owns the 60 miles of coastal track running from the Orange County Line to downtown San Diego. San Diego County plans to spend $1 billion dollars to upgrade the railroad in San Diego County. Currently 68% of the railroad is double tracked. By 2025 it is expected that the line will be 90% double tracked. What San Diego County is doing is putting off the most expensive and shorter segments of the remaining 6 miles of track for last. By 2050 the plan is to have 99% of the railroad double tracked.
Much of the current construction is being funded in part by a grant last year of $82 million dollars from the State for rail passenger projects. This money went for other projects besides in San Diego County including extending double tracking 1.8 miles from the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station to just north of the San Juan Capistrano station in Orange County. Also money was approved to lease for 5 years 2 sets of Talgo equipment for the Pacific Surfliner equipment pool. Starting from the north of San Diego County going south, lets look at what projects will be built in the next 6 years or so. There is roughly 16 miles of railroad along the coast in Camp Pendleton in northern San Diego County. Most of this is double tracked. But there is 1.6 miles of single track between San Onofre and Pulgas. This will require replacing at least one single track bridge which may be part of the hold up. There is funding for this project for planning, but construction funding is still to be announced.
The project now being finished is the construction of a third track and platform at Oceanside. The problem at Oceanside was having Coaster or Metrolink trains terminate at Oceanside tied up one of the 2 main tracks at the station. Quite often the trains would deadhead to a yard in Camp Pendleton, then move back to be in position for awaiting passengers. With a third platform and track, it will be possible for Coaster and Metrolink trains laying over at Oceanside to pull off of the 2 mainline tracks at the station during a layover. This will increase the station’s track capacity and avoid deadhead moves for trains laying over. The third track and platform is now in service. But it will be a few more months before all three platforms and tracks are in service. Platform 1 is now out of service for some upgrades and it is likely the same may happen at platform 2. All three platforms will be in service before the end of the year.
Work is starting this year to be finished next year at the Poinsettia station for the Coaster trains in the south part of Carlsbad in the La Costa neighborhood. This station is double tracked and has 2 field side platforms. The problem is to get across the tracks passengers now cross them at grade. What this means is when a Coaster train is stopped at the Poinsettia Station, no other trains can pass through the station until all passengers have left the platforms and the Coaster train has left the station. What is going to be built are longer and slightly higher platforms, a new fence between the tracks and a pedestrian tunnel to allow passengers to walk between platforms. This will safely allow more trains to travel through the Poinsettia station, increasing the track capacity of this track segment while improving safety. Both Oceanside and Poinsettia stations are getting platforms raised from 8 to 15 inches above rail to speed up loading on low level loading passenger cars. So why is this station named Poinsettia? Where do you think most of the poinsettia flowers come from for Christmas each year: south Carlsbad of course.
Also in south Carlsbad will be built a new double tracked bridge at Batiquitos Lagoon which will add 3 quarters of a mile of double tracking. This will be built at the border between Carlsbad and Encinitas. This will connect segments of double track in south Carlsbad to double tracking in most of Encinitas. This same principle will be used in many places in San Diego County to build new concrete double tracked bridges to link existing segments of double tracking. The new bridges are replacing old wooden single track bridges, all of which are over 50 years old and expensive to maintain. The new bridges are also higher to better survive future floods. Work for this bridge is planned to start this year and be finished by 2019.
Another concrete double tracked bridge now under construction over the San Elijo Lagoon between Encinitas and Solana Beach. This will include a new bridge and 1.5 miles of new double tracking. With the new bridges at Batiquitos and San Elijo lagoons, there will be continuous double tracking from Solana Beach to South Carlsbad by 2019. There are plans by 2020 to build a new double track bridge at the north border of Oceanside over the San Luis Rey River with a mile of new double track. This will create double tracking through most of Camp Pendleton and to the southern border of Oceanside. Between Oceanside and Carlsbad is 1.1 miles of single track which includes the Buena Vista Lagoon and the Carlsbad Village Coaster station which was built for single track service. This project isn’t planned until 2030. This strongly suggests this will be an expensive and difficult project.
Two other projects planned around 2030 are a new bridge over the San Dieguito River in Del Mar by the San Diego County Fairgrounds and 2 miles of double track between Sorrento and Miramar. Between Sorrento and Miramar is the slowest running, with the steepest grades and tightest curves for this rail line. To raise speeds from 25 to 40 miles per hour will cost at least $100 million dollars. The only project on this line which is more expensive would be a tunnel under Del Mar which would be in the range of over a billion dollars and is not expected before 2050.
Most of the rest of the double tracked construction in San Diego between 2016 and 2019 will be between University City and Old Town. This work is being done as part of a joint project with the San Diego Trolley light rail extension of the Blue Line from downtown to Old Town, the campus of the University of California at San Diego and the nearby University City neighborhood. This is a 11 mile, $2.1 billion dollar project for the Trolley which has been in planning for almost 30 years. This will provide continuous light rail service from the Mexican border to downtown San Diego, Old Town up to University City.
Between Old Town and La Jolla the Blue Line extension will share right of way with the existing railroad. The Trolley already shares the right of way with the Coast Line from downtown to Old Town. Elvira starts near the 52 freeway. There is now double tracking between Elvira and Miramar through Rose Canyon. On a 2.6 mile segment between Elivra and Morena which roughly ends at Balboa Blvd the Coast Line will get double tracked and realigned to straighten out some slow curves.This will also include replacing 3 old bridges with new double tracked ones. This project too has been in the planning stages for almost 30 years. At the San Diego River just north of Old Town construction has been underway for about a year for a new double tracked bridge of the Coast Line. This will create double tracking from downtown San Diego past Elvira to the existing double track to Miramar. This work is planned to be finished by 2018.