DEL MAR — A temporary train stop south of the Del Mar Fairgrounds where double tracking exists could accomplish some local and regional goals, including reducing traffic, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing train ridership.
With such “noble goals,” the project sounds like one the city “could probably support,” Councilman Mark Filanc told a group of about 50 residents during an Oct. 14 meeting at a private home west of where the platform would be built.
But, Filanc said, city officials told North County Transit District representatives they “would have to go to the community and find out what they do and don’t want in their backyard.”
“We’re here to take in those comments and try to satisfy everyone’s needs,” Filanc said. “There are lots of pros to going forward, but lots of cons, too.”
“We’re here to listen, not dictate,” Matt Tucker, NCTD executive director said, stressing that the project is in the very early stages.
Tucker said he wants to ensure residents are receiving “rock solid information.”
“Much of what you heard may not be reliable,” he said.
The long-range goal is to build a permanent platform just north of the fairgrounds, but that will require double tracking and raising the bridge out of the flood plain, an $80 million, unfunded project.
“I don’t see it as happening in the very near term,” he said.
Tucker said NCTD will not build a train stop without double tracking. He said single track sections choke the line and limit the ability of the trains to run smoothly. He said existing single-track stops in Carlsbad and Encinitas, for example, are causing problems now.
“We certainly wouldn’t want to create or add any new bottlenecks,” he said.
Following Tucker’s brief presentation, residents shared their thoughts.
Because current plans call for the platform to be used during the fair and horse racing seasons from June to September, many feared it would create a “beach train.”
The result, they said, would be more people cutting through their 21st through 24th Street neighborhoods west of where the platform would be built to get to the beach.
They also didn’t want an increase in inebriated people wandering through their yards while they wait for the train after the beach or fairground activities.
Barbara Johansen, who lives on 23rd Street, invited officials to stay at her house during the peak season to witness the experience firsthand.
“You need to maintain our security and welfare,” she said.
Johansen echoed her neighbors’ concerns when she said the temporary platform, which is slated to remain in place for 10 to 15 years, is permanent as far as she’s concerned.
Residents also said NCTD hadn’t done sufficient research to determine if the added platform would result in more riders.
“How do our government agencies move a multimillion dollar project so far along with no market data and no business case?” Jeff Weitzen asked.
Full-scale plans haven’t been developed “because that would assume we have support to move forward,” Tucker said.
“It’s hard to say there isn’t a market for riders if the train goes right by the fairgrounds,” he said. “Our mission is to provide transportation alternatives. And it’s hard to debate that direct rail access doesn’t represent a good transportation alternative.”
“Anything that drops people a half a mile away is not direct access,” resident Betsy Winsett said. “Stop trying to make this something that it’s not.”
Residents were also opposed to trains idling behind their homes from early morning until after midnight to load and unload passengers.
At one point, attendees were asked to raise their hands if they supported the project. No one did. Nearly all favored NCTD pursuing the permanent stop and about a dozen wanted no fairgrounds stop at all.
“This seems like a frivolous project when there are so many other important projects out there,” Barbara Myers said.
Not everyone opposes the platform. “The idea is great,” longtime resident Tensia Trejo said at the Oct. 18 City Council meeting.
Although she said she would prefer the permanent stop north of the site, Trejo noted that traffic congestion gets worse every year. “Before we go and say we don’t want it we should really study it,” she said.
When a platform was near that location in the 1930s, she said people weren’t allowed to go to it until the train arrived.
Officials from NCTD and the city said they plan to continue community outreach. “We need to be working to find a solution and not looking for reasons to say no,” Tucker said.
“Our objective is to go to the community and get as much input as we can and see what we can do to solve these problems,” Councilman Carl Hilliard said. “We will come together, like Del Mar does, and spend the time necessary to go through these issues.”
A high-security fencing system is currently being tested in Orange County. If it proves successful there, it could be installed in Del Mar to eliminate the existing problem of trespassing, as well as any future issues, Hilliard said.
Residents have formed Neighbors for a Transit Solution to ensure citizens play a role in helping to find a solution. The group has collected more than 200 signatures from people opposed to the temporary platform. The website is www.neighborsforatransitsolution.org.