The Coast News Group
Community Commentary

Lowering the tracks, a viable alternative?

We attended several public planning meetings at the city a few years ago, during which we were told that the four proposed railroad crossings would cost an estimated $1 million each. 

Suggestions by the public to consider lowering the tracks below grade, as has been done in Solana Beach, or having safe pedestrian crossings at grade level, were rejected out of hand because, we were told, neither SANDAG nor the North County Transit District (“NCTD”) would support these alternatives. The only reason given was that it would be cost prohibitive, but no cost estimates were ever provided. So much for public input.

Since your story indicated that there is no funding source identified for the remaining three crossings, and now that we have had a long-overdue regime change in the city of Encinitas, including a change in our representation at SANDAG and NCTD, the city has an opportunity to take another look at these projects. Now that we know that the cost estimate for the first crossing proved to be wildly optimistic, lowering the tracks may now be a more viable alternative.

Not only is the railroad an impediment to people who patronize the businesses on Highway 101, go to and from the beach, and use the bus stops on 101 and Vulcan Avenue provided by the same NCTD, there are other problems rarely discussed. For one, NCTD’s idea of maintaining the corridor is to scrape everything down to bare dirt resulting in what looks like a run-down industrial zone running through nearly the entire city of Encinitas. Presumably, NCTD has legitimate concerns about fire and visibility, but this practice also results in visual blight and clouds of dirt that frequently blow into the adjacent residential areas whenever one of the high speed trains goes through.

Another problem is the train horns. It is our understanding that, (1) the federal government significantly increased the decibel levels a year couple of years ago for some unknown reason, and (2) that the trains are supposed to start blowing their horn 1/4 mile from the crossings, but, at least for those south bound at Leucadia Boulevard, they often start well over 1/2 mile away.

If the railroad were dropped below grade from the Batiquitos Lagoon to Encinitas Boulevard, it could be left at grade through downtown to accommodate the existing station, then lowered again through the southern part of Old Encinitas and Cardiff, as a number of people suggested in the earlier public meetings. Virtually the entire right of way could eventually be developed into a linear park with safe biking and walking trails. No more dust, no more train horns at all hours of the night and day, no more blight, and a new, safe trail system for residents and visitors alike that we could all take pride in.

This would still require pedestrian overpasses, but they would be lower, less intrusive, and probably considerably less expensive than the enormous structures that will be needed to extend over the double-decked coaster cars. (We expect that underpasses may not be feasible at the three remaining crossings due to the flat topography at each location.)

You can see for yourself what we’re talking about — just drive south to Solana Beach and see what they’ve been able to accomplish. If this can be done in Solana Beach, why can’t we do it here in Encinitas?

Dave and Kathy Billings are Leucadia residents.



ikihi May 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm

lower the tracks like solona beach did! its crazy this isn’t being considered in leucadia.

fred caldwell March 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Well, I have heard in the neighborhood of 200 million to trench the tracks. Guess you missed that meeting.
And the Planning Commission may have approved the “Rail Trail” on the RR right of way, but our history with NCTD so far has been that they did their tests and they did not want to put bike lanes on their property – as ideal as you and I would like to think it would be.

Concerned citizen March 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I’ve never seen any such “estimate” that the costs for trenching would be over 10 X that much, or $200 Million. That’s exaggeration, speculation and conjecture.

Trenching the train would be a great alternative to building three more pedestrian and bicycle underpasses. However, this valuable land shouldn’t be “sold off” to developers for commercial interests, but should absolutely be a beautiful linear park as now exists in Solana Beach, San Clemente and other cities.

The pedestrian/bicyclist underpass “bridge” at Santa Fe cost $6 million, not $5 million. Three more are presently planned. A linear rail trail corridor, however, does NOT have to wait for either trenching of the train OR trenching the pedestrian/bicyclist walkways. We already have permissions and a plan in place, approved by the Planning Commission on 1/17/13, to continue the existing bicycle path that now intermittently extends from Chesterfield, in Cardiff, to A Street to Marchetta, in Old Encinitas, all the way north to La Costa avenue, where the train is already trenched.

The existing Class One Bicycle Lane should be maintained and extended, particularly between Marchetta and La Costa, so that motorists can be given back their northbound lane on North Highway 101. Eliminating that lane will cause a traffic nightmare during peak summer periods, and should northbound traffic on I-5 become blocked or significantly slowed. This is a matter of prioritizing and removing the thorn bearing plants that grow in the RR right of way, which cause flats for cyclists, removing the dead or dying oleander plants, which are spreading a disease to other oleanders in our neighborhoods.

fred caldwell March 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I don’t doubt you were told the underpasses would cost $1 million each. That’s changed to $5 million each. When all 5 are completed they will probably have spent more on them than the Encinitas Library. They will also inhibit the tracks from ever being lowered.

At grade crossings work well and are 10x cheaper that under or over passes. But that’s not our call.

If the train were trenched and covered (with periodic openings for deisels to breathe)it would open a new world of possibilities with housing, businesses, bike trails, parking and open space that could go on top and safely connect both sides of the community at the same time. Major dough for sure, but it also provide the opportunity for the railroad to sell the air space for 2 miles – just blocks from the pacific and that would be some serious coin for them.
In the early 90’s it cost $20 million to trench their train. Estimates for Leucadia now would be over 10 x that much.

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