Despite pervasive misinformation to the contrary, ridership on the on the trains that run through Del Mar has always been very low and in decline for many years, even before the covid-related plunge in global mass transit ridership. Today, less than 800 people per day are using the Coaster despite hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and effort over the last decade. These terrible results are similar for the Amtrak Surfliner. The mostly empty trains we see running through Del Mar are the clearest evidence of this failure.
Rail freight on these tracks is also insignificant, accounting for well below 1% of total freight in San Diego County, with the other 99%+ effectively coming from trucks on the highway. The rail freight is also run by a single private company, BNSF Railway. It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to spend billions of dollars for the benefit of a private company.
So the benefits of the train are minimal. What about the costs and conflicts? The train creates serious conflicts wherever it runs in the form of fences, trenches, barriers, bluff decapitation, divided cities, bad urban design, noise, accidents, death, and coastal erosion where the tracks run along 9 miles of beach in San Clemente and 2 miles along the bluffs here in Del Mar. In Del Mar alone, we are looking at a hated fence that will block access to the ocean, horrific bluff decapitation, and a risky, destructive tunnel blasted through the Del Mar hillside, running directly underneath residents’ homes. All of this would cost billions of dollars in taxpayer money.
The outlook of the train is even worse because we’re on the edge of a profound technology revolution with transportation and transit due to the rapid advances of clean electric vehicles and self-driving technology. Electric vehicles sales are starting to explode and will soon completely replace gas vehicles, addressing climate concerns and greenhouse gases. Self-driving technology will significantly improve traffic flow and eliminate wasted time, allowing people to work, read, play, or sleep. Self-driving freight trucks can significantly expand their potential via operating at night and non-peak hours.
Given all this, it begs the question: Do we even need the train? Can we repurpose the entire train route into a trail, as has been done numerous times across the country? We must explore these options.