Want to catch an Angels game? Go to Disneyland? Coaster service to extend its reach

A northbound Coaster train crosses the Batiquitos Lagoon between Encinitas and Carlsbad.
A northbound Coaster train crosses the Batiquitos Lagoon between Encinitas and Carlsbad.
(Charlie Neuman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Commuter trains would go as far as Anaheim for special events


The North County Transit District board approved a deal this week with Metrolink, the Orange County commuter rail system, that would allow Coaster trains to travel from San Diego to as far as Anaheim for special events such as major league baseball playoff games.

Coaster trains now only travel between San Diego and Oceanside, and Metrolink goes between Oceanside and Anaheim, the home of Disneyland and the Los Angeles Angels baseball team in Orange County. The tentative agreement would basically overlap the two agencies’ service routes between those cities.

“It would create more rides and maximize capacity,” said Karen Tucholski, in a presentation to the NCTD board on Thursday, July 22.

“NCTD and Metrolink have agreed to focus initial efforts on providing service for special events like the 2021 Major League Baseball playoffs, 2022 Major League Baseball All-Star Team, 2022 National Football League Super Bowl, 2028 Summer Olympics and other agreed upon special events,” states a report presented by Tucholski.

The two transit agencies will coordinate fares, fare systems and applications, and station information support for a “seamless rider experience,” it states.

“When we have special events, we will come up with the fares,” said NCTD Executive Director Matt Tucker. “In the longer term we would need to (coordinate) fares so customers can go to a terminal and buy one ticket.”

The program would begin with a few pilot events to build confidence and trust in the system.

Metrolink’s board is expected to approve the agreement by the end of September.

No specific costs are assigned to the program yet. When possible, services will be “cost neutral” between the two agencies to minimize the expense of the expanded and improved services, the report states.

Coordination of rail service between NCTD, Metrolink and Amtrak is expected to increase ridership and improve service for everyone.

Coaster ridership plummeted by 90 percent when stay-home orders were issued during the pandemic. Passengers have been slow to return, but transit officials say they are following state mandates to improve public transportation and make it easier and more convenient.

NCTD is on track to increase the present average of 22 daily trains on weekdays to 42 daily trains on weekdays in the next three to five years. The agency also is replacing all its locomotives with new ones, refurbishing passenger cars and expanding its fleet.

Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland was the only board member to vote against the agreement with Metrolink. She said she could not support it until the bluff stabilization project is completed in Del Mar, where erosion threatens the seaside tracks.

The six-phase stabilization project began 20 years ago and has two more phases to go. NCTD and the San Diego Association of Governments are working on a long-term plan to move the 1.7-mile section of tracks off the bluffs to a route through a tunnel beneath Del Mar.

Construction of the tunnel is expected to cost $3.5 billion to $5 billion, Tucker said Thursday, July 22.

Board members agreed unanimously Thursday, July 22, to ask SANDAG to increase the priority of the Del Mar tunnel project by moving it from a 10-year capital project list to the five-year list.

“The key to this whole thing is to make sure that other projects don’t get put in front and get funding prior (to the railroad tunnel), said board chairman Tony Kranz, an Encinitas City Council member.

In addition to the threat of erosion, Del Mar is one of the few places along the coastal rail corridor where there is no room to build a second set of tracks.

Double-tracking the railroad between San Diego and Los Angeles to eliminate bottlenecks like the one at Del Mar is an important part of increasing capacity and improving service, officials have said. About two-thirds of the San Diego County segment has been double-tracked so far.