San Diego County, California/Oceanside -Escondido Rail Project

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Oceanside -Escondido Rail Project

North San Diego County, California

(November 1999)

(click here for map)


The North County Transit District (NCTD) is planning the conversion of an existing 22-mile freight rail corridor into a diesel multiple unit (DMU) 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. The alignment also includes 1.7 miles of new right-of-way to serve the campus of California State University San Marcos (CSUSM). 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 DMU system would serve fifteen stations; four of these stations would be located at existing transit centers. Passenger rail would have exclusive use during pre-defined operational schedules. Average daily weekday boardings in 2015 are estimated at 15,100, with 8,600 daily new riders.

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

Diesel Multiple Units

23.7 miles, 15 stations

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):

$253.5 million

Section 5309 Share ($YOE):

Annual Operating Cost ($2004):

$152.1 million

$8.3 million

Ridership Forecast (2015):

15,100 avg. weekday boardings

8,600 daily new riders

FY 2001 Finance Rating:

FY 2001 Project Justification Rating:

FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:



Highly Recommended

The overall project rating of Highly Recommended is based on the project’s strong cost effectiveness and mobility improvements, and the high level of local funding committed to the construction and operation of the proposed project. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. 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 North San Diego County Transit Development Board certified the SEIR in March 1997. FTA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact in October 1997. It is expected that NCTD will be ready to proceed into final design on the project by the first quarter of 2000.

Section 3030 (a)(77) authorizes the Oceanside-Escondido Corridor for final design and construction. Through FY 2000 Congress has appropriated $7.93 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds 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.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design, and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The Medium-High project justification rating reflects the project’s strong cost effectiveness and mobility improvements, and acknowledges local efforts to ensure that future development in the corridor supports the transit investment.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium-High

The proposed project is expected to serve 15,100 average weekday boardings and 8,600 daily new riders by 2015. NCTD estimates the project will result in the following annual travel time savings.


Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

1.4 million

0.7 million

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. NCTD estimates that the project would result in the following annual emissions reductions.


Criteria Pollutant

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Carbon Monoxide (CO)



Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)



Volatile Organic Compounds VOC)



Particulate Matter (PM10)



Carbon Dioxide (CO2)



Values reflect annual tons of emissions reductions. [ ] reflect increases in emissions.

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.


New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)



Values reflect annual BTU reductions.

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

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




New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (1997)




Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1998 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: High

NCTD estimates the following cost effectiveness indices.



New Start vs.


New Start vs.


Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger



Values reflect 2015 ridership and 1998 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects the low density and the dispersed development patterns which currently exists in the corridor, but acknowledges the efforts of local agencies to ensure that future development is transit supportive.

Existing Conditions: The corridor parallels Highway 78 along an existing freight rail right-of-way between Oceanside and Escondido, terminating in the two cities at large intermodal Transit Centers. The corridor contains a dispersed mix of commercial, industrial, and single- and multiple-family residential developments. Population and employment densities are generally low around station areas (6.3 people and 4.1 jobs per acre), but are expected to increase. The proposed project would serve several activity centers including the business districts of the four corridor cities (Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido), several office buildings and industrial sites, two hospitals, two community colleges, a regional shopping mall, and the campus of the California State University at San Marcos. There is evidence of some restrictive parking policies in Oceanside, but parking is generally plentiful along the corridor and no regional parking policies were identified by the NCTD. Zoning regulations in Oceanside, Escondido, and Vista have been recently modified to support higher densities and mixed uses around proposed station areas.

Future Plans and Policies: Between 1990 and 1995, cities along the proposed rail corridor experienced rates of growth from 10% to 20%. Population and employment around proposed station areas are forecasted to increase by 49% (to 65,500) and 66% (to 47,400) by 2015. Local development plans to promote transit-friendly character around proposed station areas are significant and demonstrate strong commitment to public transportation. The city of Oceanside has the most developed set of transit supportive policies; its Oceanside Transit Corridor Study resulted in the development of transit overlay districts and has set the framework for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development around the seven stations planned within the city. Redevelopment plans for the downtowns of San Marcos, Vista, and Escondido are underway and include a mix of commercial, residential, and office uses within walking distances of proposed rail stations. The Escondido general plan includes an endorsement of infill development to improve existing neighborhoods. The NCTD has been active in promoting transit-supportive land use planning in the corridor cities, and has made joint development agreements with owners of property adjacent to a few station sites. SANDAG, San Diego County’s metropolitan planning organization, supports the management of growth through the encouragement of more intense residential and commercial development around rail stations, and provides funding to member jurisdictions for TOD planning.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 New Starts Share of Total Project Costs: 40%

The project’s financial plan in year of expenditure dollars proposes $152.1 million (60 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funds, $34.4 million (14 percent) in State funds, and $67.0 million (26 percent) in local funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the demonstrated commitment of local funding to construct the Oceanside-Escondido Rail Project.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: NCTD is in good financial condition, with positive operating balances over the past several years and $5.2 million in cumulative balances for capital projects.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Project cost estimates have increased from $216.6 million to $253.5 million. The revised cost estimate includes increases in contingencies, annual inflation factors, and environmental mitigation and ROW acquisition estimates. The revised cost estimates and contingencies are reasonable for a project at this stage of development, although costs would further increase if the NCTD double-tracks the entire project, as is currently being studied.

Existing and Committed Funding: All of NCTD’s proposed local funding for the project is committed. State funding for the project includes Proposition 108 passenger rail bond revenues and State Transportation Improvement Program funding. San Diego County’s ½ cent TransNet revenue is a stable and reliable funding source through 2008. NCTD will borrow against future TransNet revenues to absorb the local share of the project’s revised capital cost estimate. However, current TransNet revenue projections do not demonstrate the capacity to cover any other potential significant cost increases.

New and Proposed Sources: No new sources are proposed.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the agency’s demonstrated revenues and contingencies to operate the proposed project.

Agency Operating Condition: In recent years, NCTD has experienced positive operating balances and increased ridership, but increasing costs and a declining farebox recovery ratio (currently at 26 percent of operating costs). The agency is in adequate financial condition.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: NCTD estimates annual project operating costs of $8.3 million (in 2004 dollars). Annual O&M costs and inflation factors used in NCTD’s financial projections are reasonable. The agency is projected to maintain a 10 percent operating reserve margin through 2020.

Existed and Committed Funding: NCTD proposes to fund rail system operations through a variety of systemwide revenue sources. Transportation Development Act (TDA) and TransNet revenues provide a significant and reliable operating funding stream to the agency. NCTD

projects a 5.7 percent growth in TDA revenues over the 20-year cash flow time horizon. Failure to achieve this rate of growth may jeopardize the agency’s operating balance after the TransNet source sunsets in 2008.

New and Proposed Sources: No new operating funding sources are proposed.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)


Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)


Appropriations to Date

  Section 5309 New Starts


($7.93 million appropriated through FY ‘00)
  State 108

State STIP








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 Rail Project (map)