Saturday, February 11, 2012

COASTER and the Marines for TOD on Camp Pendleton

The North County Transit District and the Marine Corps are joining forces to extend the Coaster commuter train north from Oceanside to a station in the heart of Camp Pendleton.

On Thursday, NCTD planners will seek approval from the board of directors to work with the military base on planning and preliminary design for a rail spur and station. The preliminary work is expected to cost up to $334,000.

If the project runs as smoothly as NCTD officials hope, within four years the base’s 70,000 daytime military and civilian personnel and 38,000 residential military family members will have on-base access to Coaster trains.

And quite likely, on-base access to Amtrak Surfliner and Metrolink trains as well.

“We’re excited to have the chance to serve North County’s largest employer,” said NCTD Chief Administrative Officer Alex Z. Wiggins in a conference call on Friday.

Earlier this year the Marine Corps approached NCTD to discuss the creation of a Coaster station on base, according to Timothy McCormich, NCTD director of services planning. The base master plan, he noted, favors high-density, transit-oriented development.

Indeed, an unprecedented construction boom is under way on base. A $65 million grocery and department store exchange has opened; a $500 million hospital is due to open in 2014; a 500-bed barracks compound for unmarried personnel is being built; and there are plans for 900 new homes.

NCTD and the Marines want to land their station in the midst of all this development, near the Stuart Mesa Housing Complex, said NCTD deputy chief operations officer Lane Fernandes.

To accomplish this, the Coaster route would be extended 2 miles on a spur track from its current terminus, Oceanside.

The planners say that among the project’s selling points is that NCTD already has its train storage and maintenance yard on Pendleton property, not far from the Stuart Mesa site. Also, they say, the military has secured environmental clearances for the area in the course of developing its current master plan.

The project fits in nicely with earlier announced plans to extend the Coaster’s southern terminus beyond Santa Fe Station, to the Convention Center. Conceivably, said Wiggins, the Coaster could provide the Navy with a single transit connection between Pendleton and the 32nd Street Naval Station.

From a business plan perspective, the base is a ripe opportunity for NCTD, which currently runs several Breeze bus routes through the base. A study last year found that a substantial number of base personnel already live on the key transit corridors served by Coaster and Sprint commuter trains.

Additionally, base personnel are motivated to use public transit. Since 2002, noted Fernandes, the Navy has reimbursed its troops and civilian employees up to $230 a month for transit pass purchases.

Fernandes and McCormich emphasize that the project is in its earliest stages and there are no actual figures yet for construction costs, timelines or even operational plans.

The first step, they say, is to get approval for the project and the planning and engineering funding from the board on Thursday.

This, I expect, would lead to a major increase in Coaster traffic as well as Surfliner ridership and revenue if they can put together integrated ticketing and cross-platform transfers at Oceanside; neither of which should be an issue thanks to the forthcoming integrated timetable and the future LOSSAN joint powers authority. With boot camp in San Diego and the School of Infantry and other advanced training at Camp Pendleton, specially chartered troop trains between San Diego and this new spur may become a fairly standard feature on the rail line.

Additionally, this may be indicative of a new trend within the US military to return to passenger rail transportation; the US Army is starting troop trains this year between Fort A.P. Hill and Fort Lee in Virginia, the first in twenty-five years, due to concerns about motor vehicle accidents and safety with the previous practice of busing.


  1. Sounds a bit like Metra’s Great Lakes and North Chicago stations serving the (much smaller) Naval Station Great Lakes, which helps support some off-peak and late-night ridership (as well to serving some reverse commuters to a nearby pharmaceuticals company). Good for San Diego!

  2. Sounds good. But this comment is priceless:

    "Transporting large numbers of service members via the I-95 corridor presents a high safety risk" compared with rail travel, the Combined Arms Support Command said.

    Even the Army thinks I-95 sucks.


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