Work to begin soon on Sorrento Valley double track rail improvement project near Carmel Valley

By Karen Billing

By the beginning of the year work is expected to begin on the Sorrento Valley double track rail improvement project. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is working with North County Transit District (NCTD) and the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) on the double track project that will improve reliability, modernize aging wooden bridges and remove a bottleneck on a vital link of railway for passenger and freight movement.

According to SANDAG, coastal rail corridor is the second-busiest inner-city passenger rail line in the U.S. and the only viable freight train link between San Diego and the rest of the nation.

William Prey, SANDAG corridor director, said the regional goal is to double track 97 percent of the corridor from Orange County to downtown San Diego by 2050.

Prey said double tracking in the corridor is about 54 percent complete and 73 percent of projects are funded through construction.

An open house was held on Nov. 19 at Torrey Hills Elementary School for the $33.7 million project that is expected to be complete in mid-2015.

According to Leslie Wade, senior public outreach officer for SANDAG, currently about 50 trains a day come through the Sorrento Valley station and, since they cannot pass each other on the single track, occasionally having to stop.

The slowest section of the rail line is Sorrento to Miramar, going up the hill. That section of double track is almost complete and should be done in the spring.

The Sorrento Valley double track project will add 1.1 miles of second mainline track from the Sorrento Valley transit station heading north. In addition to the double track, a new 83-space parking lot on the south side of the station across Sorrento Valley Boulevard will bring the total number of spaces for transit riders to 192.

The new parking lot will be constructed first to make sure there is no loss of parking for rail users, Wade said.

“It will be a lot more parking for the station. We were really careful to make sure that businesses that have shuttles that pick up employees from that location will be protected,” Wade said

Portions of the existing track will be raised as much as 5 feet to get it above the 50-year flood level and two wooden trestle bridges built in the 1940s will be replaced.

Modernizing and raising the bridges out of the flood plain will help avoid a flooding emergency that occurred in December 2010, when the rail tracks were submerged for over a week.

The floods cost over $1 million in damages, passenger movements stopped and it shut down goods movement.

“To elevate the tracks 5 feet at the highest point ensures we protect passenger and freight movement and significantly reduces the likelihood of flooding from a minimum of 25-year level to 50 years,” said Mark Seits, a water resource program manager for HDR Engineering. “Basically we’re doubling our protection by modernizing to withstand flood events.”

Wade said the biggest concerns people have with the Sorrento Valley double tracking is the flood issue. SANDAG has been in discussion with the various commercial business owners in the area and had a lot of conversations about the maintenance of the floodway.

It has presented challenges but Wade said the project’s plan meets both the city and Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) regulatory limits.

The plan is to install a new drainage channel on the east side of the track to improve drainage from urban runoff and weather events. An embankment protection system will be installed along the west side of the track, adjacent to Los Penasquitos Creek.

Construction will start in 2014 on the Los Penasquitos Lagoon Bridges replacement project, replacing the four wooden single-track trestle bridges with modern concrete structures. The bridges were built between 1911 and 1940 and currently require a lot of maintenance, making replacement the most cost-effective solution.

Wade said there have been some questions about the Los Penasquitos bridges but they are not double tracking in the lagoon. The 100-year-old single-track rail bridges will be replaced with concrete single-track bridges.

Looking to the future, SANDAG and Caltrans have prepared a Public Works Plan (PWP) that creates a comprehensive strategy for their North Coast Corridor Program, which includes the Interstate 5 express lane project, rail and transit improvements, and coastal access improvements. The $6.5 billion in improvements breaks down into about $4 billion in highway improvements, $2.3 billion in railway improvement, and about $200 million in environmental, bike and pedestrian solutions, including 23 miles of bike trail, protecting 170 acres of coastal and lagoon habitats.

“SANDAG and Caltrans are working to make sure it’s not just freeway,” Prey said. “It’s never been done this way, this large-scale effort. It’s precedent-setting in that regard, looking at all types of transportation improvements that are needed in the corridor.”

The PWP has been 10 years in the making already and is expected to go before the Coastal Commission in June or August 2014. The final I-5 express lanes EIR (environmental impact report) was released last month and the plan is to begin construction on the high occupancy vehicle lane extension from Manchester Avenue to SR-78 in mid-2015.

For more information on the Sorrento Valley double track project, visit