Sprinter (light rail)
|Type||DMU light rail|
|System||North County Transit District|
|Locale||North San Diego County, California, United States|
|Termini||Oceanside Transit Center
Escondido Transit Center
|Daily ridership||7,800 each weekday|
|Opened||March 9, 2008|
|Rolling stock||12 married pairs of Siemens VT642 Desiro DMUs|
|Line length||22 mi (35 km)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
The Sprinter (styled in caps as SPRINTER) is a DMU-operated light rail line operating between Oceanside and Escondido, California, United States. The service uses the pre-existing 22 miles (35 km) Escondido Branch trackage of the San Diego Northern Railroad. Station platforms were constructed for the line’s fifteen stations serving the cities of Oceanside (western terminus), Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido (eastern terminus). The line provides service to Palomar College and California State University, San Marcos.
The Sprinter is operated by the North County Transit District of Oceanside, the area's public transit agency. The agency also operates the San Diego Coaster and BREEZE Bus. Sprinter service is operated with Desiro-class diesel multiple units (DMU) manufactured by Siemens in Germany, where they are widely used by main-line regional railways. Twelve married pairs of Siemens VT642 Desiro DMUs were delivered to the Escondido Transit Center in August 2006. The vehicles were in acceptance testing in California during the early part of 2007. At Oceanside Transit Center, the Sprinter connects to three commuter rail lines (the Coaster, the Metrolink Orange County Line, and the Metrolink Inland Empire-Orange County Line) and Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner regional rail line.
SANDAG's 2007 study predicted that the Sprinter would reduce road trips by 5,000 a day (a round trip by car would be two road trips). It also predicted over 11,000 riders (trips) per day by the end of the first year. Ridership numbers did climb after opening, reaching just under 8,000 people per day as of March 2008. Average weekday ridership for 2012 was approximately 7,800.
The Sprinter is the first passenger train service of along the Escondido Branch since the Santa Fe Railroad discontinued passenger service in 1946. Originally built in 1888, the entire line had to be rebuilt to accommodate more traffic and be elevated because the line runs along a river. The Escondido and Vista stations are the only surviving passenger stations from the earlier era of service.
The funding for Sprinter originated with the TransNet Tax (Proposition C) measure passed by San Diego County voters in 1987 to relieve traffic congestion. A third of the tax was dedicated to mass transit. The $477 million project also was funded through a $152 million Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration.
North County Transit District purchased the line in 1992 from the Santa Fe Railroad. Construction started on the line in 2005 and was scheduled for completion in December 2007. The Sprinter was scheduled to be previewed on December 28, 2007, with full runs beginning on January 13, 2008.
Due to its shared right-of-way with freight trains serving businesses in Escondido, the Sprinter platforms had to be set back from the tracks a sufficient distance to provide enough room for employees riding on the sides of freight cars. The passenger trains are not FRA compliant for operation in association with freight trains and therefore freight operations on the route are not permitted during passenger operations. For this reason some publications refer to this line as light rail but it does not conform with the usual understanding of that term.
While the DMUs aren't much narrower than freight cars, the space for employees hanging at the sides of cars considerably increases the free space required, and gangways were designed into the station that fold up after end of service to allow the BNSF trains plus employees at their sides to pass through. At the eastbound side of the Escondido Avenue platform, the tracks curve so sharply that a gap exists between the outside edges of the gangway and the side of the DMU. The California Public Utilities Commission has stated that such a gap is unsafe, and as a result, the Eastbound platform at Escondido Avenue was not used for six months after the opening of the Sprinter. On September 12, 2008, the station was completed and on September 15, 2008, the station became operational.
Sprinter was the least expensive rail project per mile of 10 rail projects built or planned in California in 2005. American Public Works Association (APWA) awarded Sprinter the Transportation Project of the Year for projects valued over $75 million.
The Sprinter has encountered some dissatisfaction in northern San Diego County. For example, business owners in Oceanside have attributed flooding in November 2007 and January 2008 to the Sprinter, since its construction raised railroad beds and narrowed creeks. Some have also criticized the limited schedule. In response to the limited schedule, NCTD expanded Friday and Saturday Night service in 2011, the last trips leaving out of Escondido (Westbound) at 10:33pm and out of Oceanside (Eastbound) at 11:33pm.
In September 2008, SANDAG introduced a new contactless "Compass Card", made possible by Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc.. The "Compass Card" allows passengers from MTS and NCTD to store regional transit passes and cash value on a rewriteable RFID card. Customers can purchase passes and add cash value on the Internet or at any ticket vending machine. When a customer boards a bus they simply tap their Compass Card on the "Validator", usually located near or on the farebox. The LED display then lights up with lights resembling that of a stoplight, and the LCD display shows text regarding the passenger's fare account. When boarding rail vehicles the Validators are located on the platform, and the same process is performed to board the train.
Accidents and incidents
On March 11, 2008, just two days after the first passengers were carried, a westbound Sprinter train struck a man who was lying on the tracks under a State Route 78 bridge in San Marcos. It was not immediately clear if the man was aware of the approach of the train. However, the man, who was covered by a sleeping bag at the time he was struck, spoke of suicide while in the emergency room.
On March 23, 2012, a man was struck by a westbound Sprinter train at the West Mission Road and North Pacific Street crossing. The victim's death was ruled a suicide by the San Diego County medical examiner's office. The operator of the train applied the brakes and sounded the horn, but was unable to avoid the collision. The victim died at the scene.
On February 28, 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission conducted an inspection of the Sprinter vehicles. During that inspection, the CPUC discovered accelerated patterns of wear on the central axle brakes of all 12 vehicles. As a result, on March 8, 2013, NCTD suspended service on the entire line. NCTD established bus replacement service for the duration of the Sprinter service interruption.  The Sprinter resumed regular service on May 18, 2013, with the last day of the supplemental express bus service on May 24.
- Burge, Michael (2008-03-10). "Passenger train sprints into service". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
- North County Transit District, The Sprinter Commemorates One Year of Service (press release), March 9, 2009: "Today marks the first full year of operations for the Sprinter light rail train."
- Trains, Sprinter reaches the finish line, June 2008, p. 28: "North County Transit District's 22-mile Sprinter diesel light rail line"
- "North County Transit District-We Move People". Gonctd.com. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
- "the rEgion: SANDAG's Electronic Newsletter". Sandag.org. 2008-01-13. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
- Sisson, Paul (2008-03-20). "Sprinter ridership nudges toward 8,000 passengers". North County Times. Retrieved 2008-06-09.
- Angela Cotey (January 2008). "San Diego’s North County Transit District launches SPRINTER light-rail service". Unknown parameter
- "Transnet Tax for Congestion Relief". Thumper.tmisnet.com. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
- "Sprinter (North County Transit District) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". Gonctd.com. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
- Burge, Michael (2008-01-18). "Sprinter could start on Jan. 27". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
- Burge, Michael (2008-01-25). "Sprinter won't ride the rails until March 9". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
- Chris Nichols (2009-12-12). "REGION: Sprinter wins 'Project of Year' award". Nctimes.com. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
- Sherman, Lola (2008-01-09). "Businesses flooded along Sprinter rail line". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
- Kovrig, Neill (2008-01-15). "Sprinter already a disappointment". North County Times. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
- Sprinter schedule NCTD website
- Burge, Michael (2008-03-12). "New Sprinter train hits man lying on tracks; legs severed". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
- Morris, Nick (2012-03-23). "SAN MARCOS: Pedestrian struck, killed by Sprinter train". North County Times. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- "SPRINTER Service Interruption FAQ". North County Transit District. 2013-3-9. Retrieved 2013-3-10.
- "SPRINTER Returns to Service". North County Transit District. 2013-5-16. Retrieved 2013-5-16.
- Burge, Michael (2007-12-29). "News - North County - All aboard for Sprinter test run". SignOnSanDiego.com. Retrieved 2011-04-26.