North County Transit Confounded by Photo of Del Martians

Justin Fornelli, Chief Rail Engineer for the North County Transit District, appeared before the transit system's board of directors on October 19 at NCTD’s headquarters in Oceanside to report on the status of the temporary train platform at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Fornelli said that NCTD is pursuing funding opportunities for the project.

But that is not all the people movers are doing to push the project. The transit system is proceeding full steam ahead, running down arguments from opponents that are critical of erecting a platform south of the San Dieguito River in Del Mar.

In a October 18 email sent from NCTD spokesperson Alex Wiggins to media correspondents, Wiggins included a link to a September 2007 article in the North County Times that showed a picture of Helen and Richard Eckfield, proponents of a permanent stop north of the river, posing at a site near the proposed temporary stop.

"You may find this 2007 North County Times article interesting, especially given the nature of the current debate about platform options at the Del Mar Fairgrounds," read the email from Wiggins.

"Are Richard and Helen Eckfield advocating for a temporary platform? Based on the photo...it appears Richard and Helen like the South platform option under consideration by NCTD. Am I missing something?" asked the media liaison.

After Fornelli concluded his report to the board of directors, six Del Mar residents opposed to the project testified and then NCTD executive director Matt Tucker addressed the board.

"The board has to look at this not as a North County project or a Del Mar project, this is a regional project. As your executive director, I am not going to take the [foot] off the pedal to find more opportunities to provide public transportation."

Standing in the parking lot after the meeting, Eckfield stated that the picture was not evidence of his support of a stop south of the river but demonstrated his support for a permanent stop at the fairgrounds.

"[NCTD] is only trying to discredit us."

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The picture showing where Bing Crosby first established direct train service to the races the second year of racing at Del Mar in 1938 emphasizes the importance of the FOCUS on making it possible for race fans to take the train from all of of LA, Orange and San Diego Counties directly to the fairgrounds-racetrack. Those trains ran until 1965 when we all thought being “freeway close” was good enough. The LOCUS for a new site has always been north of the river, at the rear of the track, behind the stretch run turn – and we are proposing that the “successful bidder” for the very lucrative State contract to run the races there pay the $4 million it would take to put that first phase permanent stop in at that site, and for SANDAG to begin the design and environmental permitting for that NOW.

The FOCUS is getting the workers, the fans and the post-race party goers off I-5 and allowing them to take the train to that north-of-river stop from which they can easily walk into the races and other events, and easily find their way back to that stop for a safe ride home. The only logical LOCUS for re-establishing this train stop has always been north of the river at the rear of the track. Don’t let anyone confuse you on that point.

The following was written by Del Mar City Councilmember Carl Hilliard:

Helen and Richard Nielsen-Eckfield want a permanent Del Mar train platform right now. They are not open to an interim temporary one, which would provide traffic relief in the area, especially during vehicle-intense times, such as the Del Mar Fair and the horseracing season.

But you already know that because Helen and Richard are relentless in their pursuit of what they want – to the point of bombarding the public with inaccurate information to support their side of the platform debate.

Their point #1: The prosperous Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC) is against a permanent stop because the club would have to contribute a substantial amount for the stop or lose out on additional racing weeks.

The DMTC is an incorporated nonprofit organization. Any money it makes above annual expenses goes to the 22nd Agricultural Association. Not only does the DMTC not have available funds to contribute, but also none are necessary to “buy” additional racing time. Additional racing dates are decided upon and authorized by the California legislature. A train-stop requirement is not part of the legislature’s consideration.

Their point #2: A single-track stop would work but North County Transit’s executive director, Matt Tucker, says it can’t be done.

Matt Tucker and North County Transit’s chief rail engineer, Justin Fornelli, maintain that single-track stops create problems up and down the line. Fifty percent of the current rail line is single-track, while only two of the eight train stops are located on single-track, which were built years ago. It is no longer optimal to construct single-track stops.

Their point #3: North County Transit is throwing away good money to refurbish the existing trestle.

Southern California Edison is footing the bill to refurbish the existing trestle as part of the restoration of the San Dieguito Lagoon. Once the channel is deepened, the integrity of the trestle will be undermined. Additionally, the new bridge that will be part of the permanent track has to be much higher – mandated by new federal requirements concerning construction in a flood plain. One section of the track cannot be elevated more than a three percent grade, which is the maximum a heavy train can traverse. For that reason the entire section between Via de la Valle and Del Mar must be raised.

Their point #4: Forget about adding any more racing days to Del Mar. The DMTC earns a million a day from racing, but isn’t willing to spend any money on a north- of-the-river stop.

Their point #5: Adding racing days at Del Mar will only clog up I-5 with more traffic.

Absolutely right! That’s why we need a temporary train stop now – to carry traffic until a permanent stop can be built that will satisfy engineering and governmental requirements.

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