By Noel T. Braymer
You can learn a lot reading the agenda packets for the local California Rail Joint Powers Agencies. From the latest LOSSAN board meeting there was quite a bit of information about upcoming expansion of Surfliner service. What is being worked on is to start up in October of this year a 13th train between San Diego and Los Angeles. This is planned to be extended north of Los Angeles in the near future to San Luis Obispo. To accomplish this, funding by LOSSAN for track work and installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) north of Santa Barbara will need an agreement with the Union Pacific. In 2020 the plan is to run a 14th train between San Diego and Los Angeles.
As part of the planning for a 13th and 14th train LOSSAN has leased 6 additional Amtrak Superliner coach cars. These are cars Amtrak had taken out of long distance service. Before these 6 cars will be put into service, they will be upgraded with onboard WiFi, given a deep cleaning and repairs to the car’s interior. The Wi-Fi upgrade is planned for September after the peak summer travel period for the Surfliners. In addition all 21 Surfliner Business Class cars will be refreshed with new seat cushions covered in leatherette, deep cleaning the cars as well as new decals and signs. The additional cars on the Surfliners will increase their passenger capacity and reduce overcrowding on trains which now often happens.
Also in the works at LOSSAN to expand future Surfliner service are the construction of improved layover and train maintenance facilities in order to expand service at end points. This includes improved layover facilities at San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Diego, In the case of San Diego this will mean a new facility will be needed to replace the current practice of serving Surfliner trains at the Santa Fe Depot overnight in San Diego. This is a combination lack of space and complaints by new residents in the high rise apartment next to the Depot of the noise late at night working on the trains and the smell from dumping the passenger car chemical toilets. Since a new site is yet to be picked it may be a few more years before a new layover facility can be built in San Diego.
A major issue for the Surfliners is improving on time performance. Much of the on time problems seem to stem from 3 trains the 763, 774 and 785. Since these are all 700 series trains, these are all trains that extend north of Los Angeles. The 763 is scheduled to depart San Diego at 5:55 AM for San Luis Obispo. The 774 is scheduled to depart San Luis Obispo at 6:55 AM to San Diego. The 785 is scheduled to depart San Diego at 3:58 PM for Santa Barbara. A major source of delays can be traced to the UP owned trackage in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. The UP runs few freight trains on this route. Much of the UP railroad starting in Ventura to Gilroy along the California Coast is largely unchanged since the 1960’s if not earlier. This is why working with the UP is critical in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties for track and signal upgrades to increase track capacity and improve on time performance for current and future passenger trains. This is critical for improving the productivity of the 763, 774 and 785. It also will reduce problems south of Ventura with meet conflicts when late trains from the north delay trains in the south and vice versa .
Between the San Fernando Valley and San Diego new track projects are underway which will soon have a major impact on improving track capacity. The almost finished new center double track platform at Van Nuys will allow 2 trains to stop at Van Nuys at the same time. That wasn’t possible with only the one existing platform now in service. Construction is now underway between Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano to extend Orange County’s double tracking between Fullerton and San Juan Capistrano. This will eliminate a bottleneck which often delays trains. Improvements are planned and also needed at Fullerton to handle the heavy BNSF traffic between Los Angeles and Barstow. In San Diego County almost 80% of the 60 miles of railroad along the coast in the county will be doubled tracked by 2020. By 2025 90% is planned to be double tracked. This will be needed soon after the new platforms at the Coaster Poinsettia Station in Carlsbad are in full service. The Poinsettia station has had double tracking since it opened in 1995. But the passengers have to cross the tracks to get to the opposing platforms. Because of this only one train can use the station when passengers are loading and unloading. This means now a Surfliner or freight train must stop and wait for the Coaster train to depart before it is allowed to proceed. The new platforms will have connecting tunnels between platforms which allows passengers to avoid crossing the tracks. This will allow two trains to travel through the station at a time. This will allow more trains to run on the line.
Also coming in San Diego County is 10.3 miles of continuous double tracking between Old Town and Miramar. This will be the result of construction of 2 new rail bridges over the San Diego River north of Old Town and an improved, new double tracked and faster 2.6 miles track alignment crossing the area between State Route 52 and Balboa Ave. Not only will these improvements allow more Surfliner service in San Diego County, but also more frequent Coaster service in San Diego County as well.