COAST CITIES — Those in North County who wish to hop on the Pacific Surfliner no longer have to make the trek to Solana Beach or Oceanside.
Six of Amtrak’s Surfliner trains will stop daily at all of the eight county Coaster stations beginning Oct. 7. North County Transit District (NCTD), which runs the Coaster stations, recently announced a deal with Amtrak and Caltrans to expand the Surfliner service.
“We’re plugging in a need for more local trains,” said Frances Schnall, marketing representative with NCTD.
The Surfliner goes from San Diego up to Los Angeles, and then to San Luis Obispo. In North County, the Surfliner previously zoomed past Encinitas and Carlsbad, only coming to a halt in Solana Beach and Oceanside.
Now, Encinitas residents, for instance, can board three southbound and three northbound Surfliner trains every day from the coaster station on the corner of East D Street and Vulcan Avenue, according to a tentative schedule. It’s expected the final schedule will be released in early October.
Other stations the Surfliner will serve: Carlsbad Poinsettia, Carlsbad Village and Sorrento Valley.
With more Surfliner stops, locals who ride NCTD’s Coaster line will have more options. Schnall said that the transit agency’s board voted in favor of the agreement this spring because it’s a cost effective way to expand rail service.
“There’s no need for NCTD to add trains or crews,” Schnall said. “Coaster riders are taking advantage of existing trains.”
Coaster riders with any valid fare can board the Surfliner and travel between the coaster stations at no added cost, according to Schnall. But Coaster passengers heading north of Oceanside will have to buy a separate Amtrak ticket — either online, through Amtrak’s mobile app or on the train.
While Coaster tickets are accepted on Surfliner trains, NCTD and Amtrak have different policies. Namely, Coaster tickets are not valid for reserving or transporting bicycles on Surfliners. Bicycle reservations require buying an Amtrak ticket on those trains.
A study from NCTD, in partnership with Amtrak, predicts that the Surfliner will gain an additional 1,700 county passengers on average each week as a result of the deal.
Some details of agreement haven’t been released. But what’s known so far about the cost structure: Amtrak will be reimbursed for Coaster riders that board the Surfliner. NCTD, along with SANDAG, will pay Amtrak $4.28 per passenger riding the entire distance between Oceanside and San Diego, and less for shorter lengths.
SANDAG and NCTD are still negotiating the percentage each will pay, according to Schnall. She noted that SANDAG is contributing to the project to show that it’s reducing car congestion for its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan.
Amtrak operates the Surfliner, and it’s primarily funded by Caltrans. Cathryne Bruce-Johnson, Caltrans spokeswoman, said in an email: “There will be no additional cost to the department for the six Pacific Surfliner trains that will serve the additional Coaster stations, and each new passenger will add $4.28 in revenue.”
Vernae Graham, a spokeswoman with Amtrak, declined to comment on the article. She said Amtrak plans to release more information about the expanded service next week.
Compared to the current schedule, it’s estimated it will take an extra 10 minutes for the Surfliner trains that stop at Coaster stations to make it from the Santa Fe depot in San Diego to Oceanside.
NCTD isn’t planning to alter the parking lots at the Coaster Stations as a result of the Surfliner expansion, Schnall said.
The contract for the Surfliner expansion is for two years, with the option to extend the deal for up to two years should various transportation agencies sign on. After that, the agencies could consider another contract.
Encinitas Councilman Tony Kranz, who sits on the NCTD board, applauded the deal for making it easier for North County residents to go downtown, and vice versa.
“If you take a train downtown, you have more viable options for getting back,” Kranz said. He added that partnerships like this are important for bolstering public transit.
The final schedule will be posted at Coaster stations and available at gonctd.com.
Also worth noting: more connecting buses are planned near the Sorrento Valley station due to increased train arrivals, but nothing has been announced so far.