NCTD gets $9.8 million to improve railroad crossings

A northbound Coaster train crosses the Batiquitos Lagoon between Encinitas and Carlsbad.

Construction to start next year on phased program


Railroad crossings throughout northern San Diego County will be improved with a $9.8 million federal grant secured for North County Transit District with the help of Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano.

“I wrote to the Federal Railroad Administration earlier this year urging them to consider this much-needed funding to help ensure that people and goods continue to move throughout Southern California on modern and reliable train systems,” Levin said in a news release Monday, Oct. 26.

Most train control and crossing equipment on the railroad’s San Diego subdivision predates 1991, the year NCTD purchased the railroad from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The equipment is reaching the end of its useful life, and NCTD has developed a phased program of projects to improve signal reliability, reduce train delays, and enhance safety for passenger and freight trains.

“This grant builds on our efforts to increase passenger and freight train frequencies to support mobility, economic, and environmental goals,” said Tony Kranz, the NCTD board chair and an Encinitas City Council member.

The $9.8 million grant from the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair programs will be matched with an equal amount of state and local funding for a total project budget of $19.7 million, the release states.

Ridership has declined by nearly 90 percent since COVID-19 travel restrictions were initiated this year, but transit officials expect riders to return in the next year or two.

At the start of this year San Diego County’s coastal corridor saw 62 Amtrak passenger, Coaster commuter and BNSF freight trains daily. By 2030 that is expected to increase to 101 trains daily.

NCTD announced this week it has ordered two additional Siemen Charger locomotives for a total of nine new locomotives to replace the original ones that have been in service since the early 1990s.

The initial five new locomotives have been received and are being run through a series of tests before entering service early next year. The newer, quieter, more fuel-efficient and reliable engines will allow the transit district to increase the frequency of trains.

The total cost for the nine locomotives was $68.6 million, with NCTD paying $53.5 million and the San Diego Association of Governments paying $15.1 million, according to the transit district.

Coaster rail cars are being overhauled at the rate of four per year, with improvements such as new carpet, replacement seat fabric, LED lights, more electrical and USB outlets, and new exterior paint. All the cars should be finished by 2026.

— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune