The first thing most people say when they read the headline or hear those words is, “It would be too expensive.”
Of course trenching the tracks would be expensive, but if we don’t trench we’ll still have the problems, and they’ll get much bigger when the tracks are doubled. Here are the problems:
Crossing Hazards. When people cross the tracks at the grade crossings from Chesterfield Avenue to Leucadia Boulevard or at grade between them, getting from one side to the other can be dangerous. Even being near the tracks is a hazard.
Google search for news articles about train collisions in Encinitas in only 13 of the years since 1990 reveals eight calamities, resulting in 10 deaths and eight injuries. Periodic collisions causing deaths and injuries have occurred since the tracks were laid in the 1880s.
Traffic Congestion. There are now 50 trains per weekday that congest vehicular traffic at the four Encinitas grade crossings. With the double-tracking that’s planned for the North Coast corridor, rail traffic will increase significantly, as will congestion at the grade crossings.
Noise. If you live near the tracks, train noise and horns stopped sounding romantic long ago. During a phone conversation beside an open window, I was once asked, “Did that train just go through your living room?”
If you want to briefly experience the train noise that thousands of Encinitans endure every day and night, sit on the Cafe Ipe patio for about two hours on a weekday morning.
Illegal Parking. It’s evident along other stretches of the Encinitas rail corridor, but illegal parking is most dramatic on the east side of Highway 101 in the three blocks north of Leucadia Boulevard.
In the past few months, the number of popular gathering spots on the highway’s west side in those three blocks has multiplied. Since parking spaces adjacent to the businesses are few, customers park illegally in the North County Transit District right-of-way on both sides of the tracks and walk across to the businesses. On the busiest nights during the summer, more than 100 cars were parked in the right-of-way in that short stretch.
Divided Community. In the 4.6 miles of rail corridor between La Costa Avenue and Chesterfield Drive, there are seven track crossings. On average, that’s one crossing every two-thirds of a mile. People have a hard time getting from one side to the other.
Trenching the tracks through Encinitas as they are in Solana Beach would solve the five problems cited:
The current crossing hazards would disappear if, first, bridges like the one at Lomas Santa Fe Drive and Highway 101 replace grade crossings and, second, if many trench-top pedestrian ramps like the one at the Amtrak station are installed in the Encinitas rail corridor. If the grade crossings go, so does the traffic congestion they cause.
The trench in Solana Beach is 28 feet deep. Even nearby, the track noise is barely noticeable, and because there are no grade crossings, there are no train horns.
Trenching the tracks and fencing the trench would make much of the remaining right-of-way available for parking, pedestrian and bike paths, and landscaping. Covering sections of the trench and using the flat spaces created for the same purposes could also help.
Solana Beach built two overhead trench bridges for pedestrians. They look expensive. But the trench-top ramp at the Amtrak station looks inexpensive. Placing many such ramps through the Encinitas rail corridor would make walking to and from Highway 101 businesses and the beach easy and safe.
With funding from federal, state, local and private sources, our neighbors in Solana Beach trenched their tracks in 1995 for $17.7 million. Allowing for inflation and the greater length of the Encinitas corridor, trenching the tracks from Chesterfield Avenue to La Costa Avenue in 2013 would cost $84.2 million. Bridging the four grade crossings would add significantly to that cost.
However, considering that SANDAG plans to spend $6.5 billion in the North Coast transit corridor by 2040, including $820 million in the rail corridor by 2030, trenching the tracks through Encinitas for $84.2 million plus the cost of the bridges looks like a good idea. Here’s another: The $19.2 million allocated for three more pedestrian undercrossings in Encinitas would be better applied to the cost of trenching the tracks.
Doug Fiske has lived in Encinitas for 44 years.