Trench the tracks

The North County Transit District’s Coaster and Sprinter rail lines transport riders within North San Diego County and between North County and San Diego.The LIRR (Long Island Railroad) transports riders within Nassau and Suffolk counties and between them and the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

Ridership per capita on the LIRR is 25 times ridership on the Sprinter and Coaster combined. While the comparison is not precisely parallel, it’s not apples and oranges either. Over many decades, the LIRR has developed nine branches. The NCTD has two. Coaster service has been provided for 18 years, Sprinter service for five.

While the LIRR has an age advantage over the NCTD, the dramatic 25-times multiple shows the potential of rail transportation in North San Diego County.

With the North Coast Corridor Project now including double-tracking the rail line along the entire coast, it’s short-sighted for the plan not to include trenching the tracks at least between La Costa Avenue and Encinitas Boulevard.

Trenching the tracks through the Leucadia corridor is a prerequisite to placing three trench-top pedestrian and bicycle crossings both north and south of Leucadia Boulevard. Those crossings would be the safest way to unite the community and to provide access from the east side to the beaches and the 101 commercial zone.

A total of nine pedestrian and vehicular crossings in the 2.5 miles between La Costa Avenue and Encinitas Boulevard is an extrapolation from the five crossings in the 1.4-mile Solana Beach rail corridor. The crossing at the Amtrak station there is essentially a ramp just above the trench top. That seems adequate for all but vehicle crossings.

Trenching the tracks through Leucadia would also free space between the tracks and 101 for bicycling and walking paths. Paths there would permit maintaining two northbound traffic lanes, which would minimize diversion to Vulcan and Neptune avenues. Traffic diversion to those streets is a dangerous and unpopular prospect.

Of course, trenching the tracks would be expensive. Eventually, as rail traffic increases from the current level of about 50 weekday trains south of Oceanside, trenching will become necessary. Trenching when the double-tracking is done would be more economical than postponing it until after the doubling.

The North Coast Corridor Project is projected to cost $6.5 billion between 2010 and 2040. In the next 20 years, $820 million will be spent on the rail corridor alone. Considering those budget amounts, the cost of trenching the tracks in Encinitas doesn’t seem daunting.

The undercrossings planned at Hillcrest Drive, El Portal Street and Montgomery Avenue carry a projected average cost of $6.4 million each. They would be useful only for people living on or near those streets, and they presume leaving the doubled tracks at grade.

Train noise is a major annoyance through the Encinitas rail corridor. As rail traffic increases, so will noise. Trenching the tracks would eliminate the need for operators to sound horns as they approach grade crossings and minimize the noise trains now generate as they pass at grade.

Earlier this month, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a train in downtown Encinitas. In December 2012, a tow-truck driver was struck and killed by a train at the Chesterfield grade crossing in Cardiff. Periodic tragedies like those have occurred since the tracks were laid in the late 1800s.

Doubled tracks and increased rail traffic will exacerbate an already dangerous problem. Deaths caused by at-grade rail traffic and crossings are unacceptable. Trenching the tracks would prevent more from happening.

Since Peder Norby represents District 3 on the San Diego County Planning Commission, is the Highway 101 coordinator for Encinitas and plays several other roles in city government, he is uniquely positioned to help bring track-trenching about. I suggest the city commits to trenching the tracks within its jurisdiction and assigns Peder Norby to facilitate the effort.

Trains running at grade through Encinitas are impractical, dangerous and burdensome. The problems will intensify as rail, vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic increase. Since the North Coast Corridor Project now includes double-tracking, it would show wisdom and foresight to simultaneously trench the tracks through Encinitas.

Doug Fiske lives west of the tracks in Leucadia.

 

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  1. Nitya Rawal says:

    I think this is a great idea! I live by the beach and it would be great if the trains were quieter and it makes sense that all those people east of the tracks have easier access to the beaches. I know many people risk walking over the tracks with kids, strollers, etc. and it’d be so much safer if there were more walkways.

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