Call it a late Christmas gift for the residents of North San Diego County. On Dec. 28, the North County Transit District (NCTD) celebrated the grand opening of the SPRINTER light-rail line, which runs between Oceanside and Escondido, Calif., about 30 miles north of San Diego.
The 22-mile, 15-station line, which will officially open for revenue service on Jan. 13, also will serve the cities of Vista and San Marcos, and provide public transit access to Palomar College and the University of California-San Marcos.
NCTD purchased the line in 1992 from the Santa Fe Railway. Originally built in 1888, the entire line had to be rebuilt to accommodate more traffic (freight trains use the line two or three times a week) and be elevated above the 100-year flood plain because the line runs along a river that tends to flood in winter, says NCTD spokesman Tom Kelleher.
NCTD launched construction on the line in 2005, almost two decades after San Diego County voters approved Proposition C, or TransNet, a sales tax measure that included SPRINTER line funding. The $477 million project also was funded through a $152 million Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration.
NCTD will operate 12 diesel multiple units built by Siemens Transportation Systems on the line. Because overhead electrical support can cost $5 million or more per mile to install, the self-propelled DMUs were a cost-effective option, says Kelleher.
SPRINTER will provide NCTD passengers an alternative to the express bus service that runs on a congested east/west highway. Trains will make the trip between Oceanside and Escondido in 53 minutes, says Kelleher.
“It’ll save 16 minutes from the express bus services,” he says.
Daily ridership on the line is expected to total 11,000 by the end of the first year of service and about 20,000 by 2020.
SPRINTER is a key component of the San Diego region’s transit planning program that began in the mid-1980s. The east/west line will connect with NCTD’s existing COASTER commuter-rail line, which runs north/south from Oceanside to downtown San Diego, where it connects with the San Diego Trolley. SPRINTER also will connect with Amtrak and Metrolink service, and a future bus rapid transit line that will run north/south from downtown San Diego to Escondido.
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