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Rail Expansion in Carlsbad

Nearly 150 years ago, the first transcontinental railroad in the United States ushered in a new era of transportation, travel and trade. Today, there has been a resurgence of rail infrastructure investment throughout the country. Changes in technology, market forces and consumer values have, in many cases, made rail the most efficient and cost effective mode of transporting goods and people.

  • During the next 20 years, $1 billion will be spent on improvements to rail between San Diego and San Luis Obispo.
  • Smart sensors, GPS, alternatives to at-grade crossings and other features of modern train transportation have made rail safer.
  • Rail is three times more fuel efficient than truck transport.

Rail Growth in San Diego

The San Diego Association of Governments, the local agency in charge of making improvements to transportation infrastructure, is building the following projects to improve rail safety and efficiency in the regional rail system:

  • Adding a second set of tracks parallel to the existing tracks (“double tracking”)
  • Replacing/upgrading older bridges and tracks
  • New platforms
  • New pedestrian under-crossings
  • Safety and operational improvements

What This Means for Carlsbad

In Carlsbad, the railroad tracks are mostly at the same level as the street. A second set of tracks has already been installed between Pine Avenue and Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

In the northern part of the city, building a second set of tracks is more complicated, due to the proximity of the Village and Barrio, two of Carlsbad’s oldest neighborhoods. 

When second set of tracks is built, the number of trains that come through the Village and Barrio neighborhoods is expected to double from 50 trains per day to 100 trains per day. 

Because the tracks are at street level, when trains come through, gates come down and cars, walkers and bicyclists have to wait. This causes safety problems, with people and cars getting hit from time to time. That’s why the City of Carlsbad is exploring the option of lowering the tracks below street level, in addition to the street level option.

Two Options

When considering how to build a second set of tracks through the Village and Barrio areas, the Federal Railroad Administration, which is ultimately in charge of managing rail infrastructure, identified two preferred options for consideration:

     Street Level Option                                                Below Street Level Option



Street Level Option

  • Less expensive 
  • Requires less construction
  • Limits east-west traffic flow for cars, walkers and bicyclists 
  • Requires street barriers that restrict access to nearby businesses
  • Does not address safety concerns
  • Does not address noise concerns
  • Projected to hurt local businesses and the economy because of the disruption

Below Street Level Option

  • More expensive
  • More complex and lengthy construction 
  • Virtually eliminates accidents with people and cars
  • Creates five additional crossings for cars and/or people between the Agua Hedionda and Buena Vista lagoons
  • Eliminates noise from train horns
  • Allows trains to run more efficiently

Work Done to Date

  • City Council goal for FY 15-16
  • Approved environmental analysis for rail improvements between San Diego and San Luis Obispo identified both street level and below street level options as preferred options for consideration
  • Feasibility studies for street level and below street level options.
  • Economic analysis for street level and below street level options.
  • Environmental analysis of the street level option

Next Steps

City staff presented the findings of the economic analysis and feasibility studies for street level and below street level options at the City Council goal update on Feb. 21. A second meeting will be scheduled on a weekend in March 2017 to allow for additional input on the City Council goals. After this meeting, the City Council will take action to finalize their goals for 2017 and staff will develop a work plan and funding strategy to achieve these goals. 

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