CARLSBAD — Several years ago the City Council set a goal to trench the railroad tracks through Carlsbad Village to at least Tamarack Avenue.
And without any fanfare or discussion, on Nov. 27 the City Council approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the San Diego Association of Governments to conduct an analysis for trenching the railroad tracks in Carlsbad Village.
One goal for the city is to begin construction by 2030.
The alternative analysis includes long- and short-trench options and 10 percent of the preliminary engineering for the project. Train traffic is expected to double by 2030, according to city and SANDAG reports, which is why the city and SANDAG are looking at all options to double track and potentially trench the lines.
The short-trench option would run from Carlsbad Village Station to Tamarack Avenue, while the long-trench alternative would extend to the north shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
The area in Carlsbad is just a small part of the greater LOSSAN (Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo) corridor, which stretches 351 miles with commuter and freight rains.
In 2011, a feasibility study from SANDAG reported the at-grade double-track project would cost $47 million, although the cost has risen to $62 million.
Cost estimates for the short trench are $224 million and $335 million for the long trench.
However, the economic analysis shows the short- and long-trench options with the highest return. Those estimates include the value of lives saved plus traditional economic benefits.
According to the economic study, the short trench is estimated between nearly $6 billion and $20 billion, while the long trench ranges between $6 billion and $22 billion.
The at-grade alternative painted a grim picture. The estimates range from negative $229 million to negative $568 million, primarily due to loss of life, time and changes in property values, according to the study.
Another reason the City Council has set trenching as a goal is the loss of life due to suicides and accidents with oncoming trains. Since 1998, more than 20 accidents including nearly 20 deaths have been reported.
Councilman Mark Packard, who was the former president of the board of directors for the North County Transit District, said in 2017 preventing loss of life was one of his main priorities. He noted the financial cost since 1998 was at least $20 million, plus the pain and suffering of those families affected.
One of the most common comparisons, or examples of a successful trench, is in Solana Beach, where there has not been a recorded death since 1998.
“We expect the same thing to happen to Carlsbad,” Packard said in 2017. “That’s a significant savings in life and the cost of the legal challenges that come with loss of life. We’re going to spend it on trenching or on lawsuits of loss of life. I’d rather spend it on trenching and save the lives.”
As for funding, a sizable chunk will have to come from Carlsbad. Packard said typically 20 percent is required before state and federal funding sources kick in.
And while $70 million from the city is significant, he said it pales in comparison to the benefits of trenching.
“My plan is that the city put its local money in the front, early, so we can cover a lot of the environmental reviews, while we’re working on securing state and federal money,” Packard said. “Typically, the federal and state governments are willing to bring money to the table when a project is shovel ready.”
Included in the staff presentation, however, were options to cover the trenching area in the Village with a park and more walking space. In addition, the trench would allow for better and faster responses from emergency services, numerous city officials and city council members have said.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.