By Noel T. Braymer
Support to expand rail service between Los Angeles and San Diego in the mid 1970’s was in large part due to the efforts of the then Senator pro tempore James Mills of the California State Senate. Between roughly 1975 to 1981, the number of round trip trains between San Diego and Los Angeles went from 3 daily to at least 7. Today there are 13 round trips between San Diego and Los Angeles. Within a year the plan is it will run 14 round trips between San Diego and Los Angeles with service extended to Santa Barbara for 6 Los Angeles/Santa Barbara round trip trains and 3 round trips between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo with service to Los Angeles and San Diego as well. James Mills was also the “Father” of the San Diego Trolley which set off the return of Light Rail transit service across the County in 1981. Also in San Diego County was Byron Nordberg who proposed and planned the construction of the first Intermodal transportation center in this country in Oceanside shortly before the creation of Amtrak which happened in 1971. The Oceanside Transportation Center opened 1984.
In the news now are plans by the North County Transit District to completely overhaul the Oceanside Transportation Center with commercial and residential development. This would include shops, housing and office buildings. This will be placed on the just over 10 acres of the current site, which now is mostly used for parking and buses. This redevelopment is expected to both bring more people and revenue to Oceanside. So far no drawings have been published of what is planned for the Transportation Center, if there are any. What has happened since 1984 has been new major developments around downtown Oceanside including resort hotels near the Transportation Center.
In the 1980’s the area around downtown Oceanside was a hangout for prostitutes who often catered to Marines on Liberty. The area had problems with crime. There were also many vacant lots and rundown buildings in downtown Oceanside. The last 2 major parking lots in downtown Oceanside were closed last year for construction of 2 new resort hotels near the Transportation Center, beach and pier. Besides adding 2 additional platforms and tracks and a parking structure over the years at the Transportation Center, there is also much new housing, stores and restaurants nearby . Just north of the Transportation Center are at least 3 major 6 story high housing complexes with ground level shops and services.
All of this is not unique to Oceanside. A much larger scale example of this is downtown San Diego. In the 1980’s the Santa Fe Depot was in an old rundown part of town. Today the railroad right of way in San Diego is flanked with skyscrapers. Between downtown to Old Town the passenger trains and Light Rail Trolley service share right of way. New construction is on going, particularly where there is rail service in downtown San Diego. A year or so ago an investor who’s name was not published bought the old Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego which serves the Trolley, Amtrak and Coaster rail services. The reason for buying it was as an investment. The income would come from rents paid from tenants such as Amtrak, Transit agencies etc. But at the time of the sale the representative of the buyer pointed out there was lots of space in the Depot building that could be leased out.
Also in the news is the plan between SANDAG (the planning agency for San Diego County) and the Navy to jointly redevelop Navy owned property just south of Old Town about 3 miles north of downtown. Old Town is already a major transit hub with rail, light rail and bus services. What is planned is to build new buildings to replace the World War 2 aircraft factory buildings with new buildings for the Navy, new housing and retail. This would tie in directly with transportation services services at Old Town. Already there are plans by this Summer to start running electric shuttle buses between Old Town and the San Diego Airport which is north of downtown. As part of the new construction around Old Town, a dedicated new service is planned to run between Old Town and the airport terminals. This could be either a “People Mover” or an extension of the San Diego Trolley. Both tunnels and elevated structures are being looked at for this new connection between Old Town and the airport.
A major goal of these new and or improved services is to reduce the traffic congestion around downtown San Diego and places like Oceanside while reducing travel times. Another part of such plans is generating more business in San Diego, Oceanside and elsewhere in San Diego County. Transportation is at the heart of a decent economy. Any major growing city is either tied to a harbor, river, rail and or highway network. The quality and capacity of transportation services is central to a healthy local economy. In the post World War 2 era, highways and air service took off which was behind much of post war boom. Many road, air and other infrastructure improvements were largely funded then by tax dollars. The railroads after World War 2 didn’t share in the infrastructure tax bonanza other forms of transportation enjoyed. But back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries towns would fight over getting rail service so that grass wouldn’t grow in their streets. Since the late 20th Century the amount of capital spent on infrastructure such as transportation has declined with many needed projects being delayed. Major complaints in most states are that the roads are in poor shape and congested. This is rarely seen in other major counties outside of the US. What started in San Diego County in the 1970’s has spread to many parts of the country over time. But much of this follows what many major cities around the world have discovered. Which is you can’t depend just on roads to have a healthy economy.
The plan for the commercial development of the Oceanside Transportation Center is centered on generating revenue for the North County Transit District. In some form or other this is done at many transportation services. Running just bus and or rail passenger services doesn’t make much money. This development model has been used in many rail related services in Europe and Asia. If we look at what is now Virgin Trains USA, that service is planning to make much of its money leasing land that it owns to tenants near and at the Virgin Trains USA stations. Having passengers using the rail service also brings in money for other services near the stations. This will likely be the goal for the North County Transit District with their planned redevelopment of the Oceanside Transportation Center.