Where the Surf Meets the Turf Meets the Train in Old Del Mar

"We need to get as many people as possible to attend meetings and write letters. We need to drive the City nuts to get them on our side. Wherever they want to put it is fine, as long as they don't put it here," said a resident of Del Mar's Beach Colony during a neighborhood meeting on Tuesday, September 21.

The 30 Del Mar denizens attended the meeting to discuss North County Transit District's proposal to construct a temporary train stop for the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The "neighborhood stop," as some residents called it, would mark the finish line for horserace fans looking to spend a day at the track.

The platform would be placed on a small stretch of double-tracks just south of the San Dieguito River — 20 feet from the nearest dwelling and more than a half-mile from the entrance of the racetrack. Using the additional set of tracks allows for trains to stop without obstructing the commuter railway, and if constructed, trains would stop at the location seven weeks out of the year with as many as 900 passengers per train.

Right out of the gate, neighbors expressed frustration at the lack of public notification and the added noise, traffic, and emissions that the train stop would bring to their beachside community.

"[Executive Director for North County Transit District] Matt Tucker even said during his presentation to the Del Mar City Council that one of the major problems is that people won't be able to find their way back to the stop, especially at night," said Del Mar resident Nancy Fisher during the meeting.

"I feel slighted and grossly discounted by their actions," wrote one resident in an email following the meeting. "I am a strong supporter of public transit and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I am also a strong supporter of due process and public input. What happened here? Residents of Del Mar would like to know."

The odds, however, don't look good for the neighbors. City councilmember Carl Hilliard, who sits on the board for North County Transit District, has gone on record touting the benefits of the temporary train stop, including reduced traffic and increased parking at the fairgrounds. Hilliard was unable to attend the neighborhood meeting.

Seeking information on the lack of notification to residents and whether a "single track" stop north of the river was explored, this correspondent left a message for Del Mar City Manager Karen Brust and emailed North County Transit District Spokesperson Alex Wiggins. Both failed to respond.

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Thanks, Dorian, for bringing attention to the escalating concerns of our neighborhood about the proposed train stop in our residential location. However, I'd like to clarify my comment. What I thought I said is that the NCTD, in its own presentation of the pros and cons of the two proposed locations, acknowledged as a major "con" that attendees might have trouble finding their way back to the train stop -- especially at night. Nancy Fisher

Pardon me, but much of these objections sound like classic NIMBYism. The San Diego Trolley, the north county Sprinter, and any number of other transportation options have been faced with bitter and vigorous over-the-top claims.

But first, there's the matter of semantics. This stop is described as "temporary." In earlier descriptions I've seen, it was also described that way, leading me to conclude that NCTD has been calling it temporary. Yet, the proposal is to put in place a seasonal, permanent stop. Perhaps calling it temporary was a way to make it more palatable to the Del Martians.

Back in the 50's and 60's, the Santa Fe railroad, precursor to today's Amtrak, ran Del Mar racetrack specials down from LA. Whether these were special trains, or just some cars added to the regular schedule is not clear, but they did park the equipment on that passing track until it headed back north. Approached dispassionately, it makes sense to have a stop for riders visiting the fair or the racetrack that is within walking distance. Today, the riders have to leave the train at the Solana Beach station and ride a shuttle bus down to the fairgrounds/track.

Describing the stop as "twenty feet from the nearest dwelling" is perhaps technically true, although I doubt that any home in that area is a mere twenty feet from the rails. If there is such a home, it is also a mere twenty feet from a very busy rail line, with of dozens of trains per day passing by. And if there is an occupant of that home, he/she has chosen to live there. Whether the train pauses for a minute or two on that passing track, or keeps rolling on by, will make little difference. What such stops could avail is a reduction of auto traffic into and out of the parking lots and the congestion on Via de la Valle. Nowadays trains pause on that passing track, because it allows those frequent trains to pass each other.

It is not as if this was sprung suddenly upon the city in the past few weeks. I've been reading about the proposal in the local "rag" for two years or more. Oh, the claim of "as many as 900 passengers" per train is in a word, ludicrous. A typical Amtrak Surfliner train with every seat occupied might, and I stress might, hold 900 passengers. But all of them are not going to be getting off or on at the stop--most are going through between LA and San Diego.

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