Much like the threat of Highway 680, double-tracking is looming over coastal North County,. Some see it as an inevitability, others a nightmare, but most see it for what it is - a huge boondoggle being forced on coastal cities. Currently, double-tracking is not needed by anyone other than the folks in San Diego who stand to make millions by running freight trains up and down the LOSAN rail corridor.
North County Transit District is keen on double tracking through every coastal city, the environment be damned. For years now the NCTD board of directors , an august body of not so wise thinkers has been advocating increasing rail traffic without conducting a comprehensive environmental impact analysis. Part of the inevitability contingent, NCTD just wants their share of the rail profits. Nothing more, nothing less.
Last week, a rail transit and transportation corridor workshop was held in Encinitas. In a packed council chambers, residents from coastal communities had the dubious and frustrating pleasure to hear representatives form San Diego Association Governments, NCTD, Amtrak, Caltrans, and the High Speed Rail Authority , all vested interests, talk about how much they want to work with residents as they plan our transportation future. Be afraid, be very afraid.
George Frank, senior planner for SANDAG, foresees a total of 12 lanes on I-5, including two high occupancy vehicle lanes, through Encinitas. Frank believes double tracking will alleviate congestion on I-5, which is wishful thinking, considering that SANDAG is forecasting another million people moving to the region within the next twenty years. Karen King of the North County Transit District, stated that NCTD, will do all they are required to do, as they develop "Fast Forward" strategies to implement SANDAGs region 2020 transportation plan.
Daryl Johnson, the Amtrak West representative, citing dramatic population growth in California, believes the Pacific Surfliner corridor is Amtrak's most promising market. Amtrak is currently conducting capacity studies for a double tracked LOSAN corridor, hoping to attract High Speed Rail Investment Act funds. Eighty percent of Amtrak's operating budget is covered by generated revenue. The other 20 percent comes from government subsidies, slated to end in 2002. Double traking will allow Amtrak to increase it's service to 32 trains a day.
Dan Leavitt of the High Speed Rail Authority assured residents that high speed rail will help reduce freeway and airport congestion, providing a transportation option that is both environmentally friendly and time effective. He also noted California is recognized as having the most congested freeways in America. Leavitt said the HSRA is working with Amtrak to increase speeds in LOSAN corridor. Currently train speed along the coast is restricted 100mph.through urban areas. More trains going faster is not a good thing.
The majority of of those in attendance favored relocating the rail corridor to the Interstate 5 transportation corridor, The first public speaker, County supervisor Pam Slater set the tone of public testimony by voicing the environmental benefits of pulling the rail corridor out of North County's coastal lagoons.
Towards the end of the"workshop" is was divulged that double tracking actually means triple tracking in some places. If all the players wanting a piece of the San Diego Rail action are to be accommodated , certain stations would need even more tracks to accommodate Amtrak, the Coaster, high speed rail, and freight traffic. Judging by the tone of the residents, I'm looking forward to seeing trains speeding down I-5.