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San Diego County, California Oceanside-Escondido Passenger Rail Project

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Oceanside-Escondido Passenger Rail Project

North San Diego County, California

(November 1998)


The North County Transit District (NCTD) is planning the conversion of an existing 22-mile freight rail corridor into a commuter rail transit system running east from the coastal City of Oceanside, through the Cities of Vista, San Marcos, and unincorporated portions of San Diego County, to the City of Escondido. A proposed new alignment will serve the California State University San Marcos (CSUSM), including an additional 1.7 miles of new rail right-of-way. The proposed project is situated along the State Route 78 corridor, which connects Interstate Highways 5 and 15, the principal east-west corridor in Northern San Diego County. The proposed rail system would serve fifteen stations; four of these stations would be located at existing transit centers. Average daily weekday ridership in the year 2015 is projected to total 15,100 and daily new riders are projected to be 8,590.

Oceanside-Escondido Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Line
22 miles, 15 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $213.7 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $124.0 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $3.2 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 15,100 daily boardings
8,590 daily new riders
FY 2000 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2000 Project Justification Rating: Medium-High
FY 2000 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1998. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Oceanside-Escondido Rail Project and an EIR for the CSUSM alignment were published and certified in 1990 and 1991 respectively. A Major Investment Study was not required based on concurrence from FTA, FHWA, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), Caltrans, the City of San Marcos, and NCTD.

Advanced planning for the Oceanside-Escondido Rail Project, which resulted in 30 percent design, was completed in December 1995. The Environmental Assessment/Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (EA/SEIR), was completed in early 1997. The San Diego County Transit Development Board certified the SEIR in March 1997. FTA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact in October 1997.

Section 3030 (a)(77) authorizes the Oceanside-Escondido Rail Corridor for final design and construction. Through FY 1999 Congress has appropriated $6 million in Section 5309 New Start funds and for this project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. N/A indicates that data is not available for a specific measure.


Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium-High

NCTD estimates the project will result in the following annual travel time savings.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings decrease of 1.4 million hours decrease of 0.7 million hours

Based on 1990 Census data, there are an estimated 1,706 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed 15 stations, approximately 12 percent of total households within ½ mile of proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

The San Diego region is a "serious" non-attainment area for ozone, and a moderate non-attainment area for carbon monoxide. This project will help to eliminate the heavy congestion of northern San Diego County along the State Route 78 corridor. NCTD estimates that the project would result in the following annual emissions reductions.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 96 annual tons decrease of 43 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 1 annual ton decrease of 12 annual tons
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) decrease of 5 annual tons decrease of 4 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) 0 0
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 4,070 annual tons decrease of 2,113 annual tons

NCTD estimates that in 2015, the project will result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units-BTU).

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 54,464 million annual BTU decrease of 29,045 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

NCTD estimates the following systemwide operating cost per passenger mile in the year 2015.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (1997) $0.10 $0.10 $0.10

Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: High

NCTD estimates the following cost effectiveness indices.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $3.77 $5.36

Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects both the existence of low and moderate density along the corridor and the progress in the corridor to promote transit-supportive land use. The Oceanside-Escondido Corridor contains a dispersed mix of commercial, industrial, single, and multiple residential developments. Major activity centers include the central business districts in each of the incorporated cities in the corridor (Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido), several industrial complexes, two hospitals, two community colleges, a regional shopping mall, and the California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM). Ongoing corridor land use studies are identifying opportunities for pedestrian-oriented, mixed use development around the proposed stations. Several large scale mixed use developments are planned at the Oceanside Transit Center, including a large Oceanside Beach resort, convention center, entertainment center, retail, and affordable housing. The Oceanside downtown redevelopment district contains a Transit District Overlay Zone encouraging mixed use development and reduced parking requirements. The Escondido general plan includes infill development to improve existing neighborhoods and reduced parking requirements in the downtown area. The City of Escondido has adopted density bonuses to developers in exchange for the provision of affordable housing. Redevelopment plans in the Cities of Vista and San Marcos provide pedestrian design guidelines and propose major intensification of land use at the rail station. The NCTD has already made two joint development agreements with adjacent property owners for station access, off-site improvements, and parking.

Other Factors

Environmental Justice: According to the 1990 Census date, 62% of the households within the project corridor are minority and low income residents.

Multimodal Emphases: This project was initially conceived as part of a multimodal corridor study of the State Route 78 corridor. This three-phase study evaluated a range of transportation alternatives in the 20-mile corridor including freeway, arterial, and transit improvements.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 42%

The financial plan includes $124 million (58 percent) in Section 5309 New Start funds, $34.4 million (16 percent) in State funds, and $55.3 million (26 percent) in local funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High capital plan rating reflects that local funding commitments are in place for the non-Federal share of project costs; however, there is little evidence of a reasonable contingency plan. The Oceanside-Escondido Rail project was approved by the San Diego County voters in 1987 as part of Proposition A. The local Transnet sales tax will contribute approximately $26.8 million for implementation of the project. All other NonFederal funding sources are committed funds and projections indicate in the 20- year cash flow analysis that there will be sufficient funds to adequately fund the project. The railroad right-of-way and land acquisition was funded with state and local resources. In 1995, the North County Transit District (NCTD) completed the Coaster Rail project, a $150 million, 42-mile commuter rail service, solely with state and local funds.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium operating plan rating reflects the stability of proposed operating funding sources, but concerns with O & M cost estimates and lack of contingencies. NCTD obtains operating funds from Transnet, a dedicated local sales tax created in 1971 to fund transit operations; Transit Development Act (TDA) funds; and the State Transit Assistance Fund (STAF). These state and local funds represent approximately 60 percent of NCTD’s current operating expenses. Much of the operating revenues for the rail systems is derived from the users of the right-of-way. Through shared use agreements, NCTD receives approximately $5 million per year from Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Amtrak. Other lease revenue is derived from the right-of-way and leases at transit centers and NCTD’s administration building. Funds received from farebox revenues, advertising revenues, and other sources account for 25 percent of the operating budget. NCTD has an operating agreement for exclusive passenger rail use of the Escondido-Oceanside corridor during its defined operational schedule, while freight will have exclusive use outside this schedule. Annual O & M costs assume average annual inflation of 3 percent, which may be optimistic. Insufficient information was provided by the NCTD to determine the effectiveness of proposed sources in covering potential cost overruns.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $124.00 $6.00 million appropriated through FY 1999
State 108 $17.6


State STIP $16.8


Transnet $55.3


Total: $213.7

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

[Oceanside-Escondido Passenger Rail Map (PDF)]

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact