Double Tracking In Del Mar

One of the unique features of our city is the railroad that passes through our community. It is the second busiest intercity passenger rail line in the United States, with as many as 70 trains a day, including the Coaster commuter trains, and the Pacific Surfliner. It also provides the only north-south rail link for freight to and from San Diego. Currently, a single track passes south over the San Dieguito Lagoon, past the Fairgrounds, and just east of our residential neighborhood of north beach. The line then continues south along the bluffs and then across Los Penasquitos Lagoon.

A new construction project is being proposed to be built by the year 2030 that would add 1.1 miles of a second mainline track south of Solana Beach, replace the 96-year-old wooden trestle across the San Dieguito River, and add a special events platform at the western edge of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The purpose of the project is to eliminate a significant bottleneck in the passage of trains south of Solana Beach, improve safety, and do away with trains having to sit idle waiting at a siding as another train passes on the single track. The special events platform is intended to be used only during the Fair and racing season, will encourage visitors to commute on the train, and reduce traffic.

This project is estimated to cost $100 million and, as said, is scheduled for completion in 2030. But the design and environmental work for the project is being done this year, and will be completed in 2014. It is the practice of the lead agencies (SANDAG, Caltrans, and NCTD) to design and do the environmental review of the project early, and have it “on the shelf” — ready to go when the funding becomes available.

What is critical to Del Mar is that we are actively involved in the early design and environmental review processes so that we can identify potential impacts on our community and seek mitigation for those negative results.

As councilmembers, it is our responsibility to identify problems early and get them resolved early, before they become rigid and without solutions. So it was clear to me that we needed to get our community involved now. The Council also supported this approach. On Feb. 4, the Council agreed to form an Ad Hoc Committee for the San Dieguito Double Track and Fairgrounds Platform Project. This committee will be made up of interested residents and community volunteers. The purpose of the committee will be to gain a full understanding of the project, identify issues of concern for Del Mar, prioritize mitigation measures that will address those concerns, and submit those recommendations to the City Council. The Council will then use that information to shape its formal response to the project design and environmental mitigation.

Now this approach is very unusual, and needs to be done with some finesse. The Double Track project will be funded using Federal dollars. As such, its environmental review will be done under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), not the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). NEPA requires that the environmental review demonstrate that mitigations and alternative measures for the project were considered while designing the project. CEQA requires mitigation after the project is designed and is being constructed. Therefore it is important that the City of Del Mar identify potential mitigations to ensure that they are incorporated into the project at the design phase to ensure implementation.

Our new “Dual Track Ad Hoc Committee” will provide key analysis and input to the City, and get an early jump on making this project as positive as possible for the community.

I appreciate everyone’s willingness to get involved.

Terry Sinnott