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Metrolink Service to San Diego Contemplated

10:33 AM PDT on October 24, 2012

One of the staff reports presented during the monthly cycle of Metro Board committee meetings I try to read conscientiously is the Regional Rail Update.

The report presented at the Oct. 17th Planning and programming Committee contains a fascinating tidbit on page 2: "Staff is working closely with Metrolink on two new initiatives that would increase Metrolink service. The first is the introduction of additional service, using Metrolink equipment, which would go from Los Angeles Union Station beyond Oceanside to San Diego. The second is to increase peak hour service on the 91 line, which travels from Riverside to Los Angeles, via Fullerton."

As you can imagine I was especially intrigued at the notion of through service to San Diego. Seeking more information, I discovered  Power Point presentation via the Metrolink Board Sept. 14th Legislative and Communications Committee  was made on the proposal which the minutes indicate provoked comments by one of the Directors:

Mark Waier addressed the recent discussions with North County Transit District (NCTD) for extension of Metrolink service into San Diego. Those discussions are still ongoing and staff will keep the committee informed once the market analysis on prospective weekday and weekend schedules is completed to see what type of demand there is for this service.

Director Millhouse inquired as to how these trains would interact with Amtrak service, and also noted that the comfort of Metrolink’s trains, which were designed with a focus on safety, could hinder the success of this potential service. He noted funds had been recently received for the rehabilitation of equipment in the Bombardier cars. In implementing those funds, he suggested considering taking five or six cars and upgrading them for use on longer trips where customer comfort is a premium.

Robert Turnauckas stated that staff is unsure what Amtrak’s response will be to Metrolink adding this route. He noted that Metrolink’s weekend pass has had an impact on their market share. Director Millhouse suggested engaging in talks with Amtrak to discuss our plans and try to work in greater partnership with Amtrak.

The Power Point (not posted online) indicates that for weekdays, they are looking at a commuter schedule starting mornings in downtown San Diego while making all stops to Los Angeles; in addition, they'll be doing the reverse for the afternoon commute along with southbound service from Fullerton to San Diego in the morning and returning in the evening.

Weekend service would start in San Bernardino on the IEOC line to San Diego making all stops (reverse service included) along with service starting in Los Angeles on the Orange County line to San Diego making all stops (reverse service included) .

Metrolink would operate service to/from Oceanside Transit Center. North County Transit District (NCTD) would operate the Metrolink train south of Oceanside. All conductors, crew and engineers would be under the control of NCTD south of Oceanside. Trains would be required to double spot for disabled passengers south of Oceanside until permanent ramps are built to accommodate Metrolink trains.

The proposed Ticketing Structure on weekedays would be combining the fares of Metrolink and NCTD, keeping both parties whole. The same for the weekend except for the snag that NCTD does not have a Weekend Pass (NCTD has a Saturday Day Pass and a Sunday Day Pass). Other Outstanding Fare Issues include the difference in how the agencies define seniors (Metrolink- 65, NCTD- 60).

There also are a number of technical issues that need worked out: integration of the Coaster timetable into Metrolink's schedule processes, how to handle individual agency schedule changes, and fare adjustments.

Scott Johnson, Assistant Public Affairs Officer at Metrolink, tells me that currently the "North County Transit District is performing an analysis to determine if the plan is viable."

How this dovetails with the transition of the Surfliner to local management should be interesting. I am also curious what reaction Caltrans and Amtrak have to this concept.

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