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The Sprinter is a diesel operated passenger rail line operating between Oceansidemarker and Escondido, Californiamarker, United Statesmarker. The service uses the pre-existing Escondido Branch trackage of the San Diego Northern Railroad. Station platforms were constructed for the line’s fifteen stations [247111] serving the cities of Oceanside (western terminus), Vistamarker, San Marcosmarker, and Escondido (eastern terminus). The line provides service to Palomar Collegemarker and California State University, San Marcosmarker.

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 Germanymarker, 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.


The Sprinter is the first passenger train service of any kind along the Escondido Branch since the Santa Fe Railroad discontinued passenger service in 1946. The Escondido station is the only extant station from that era of service. The construction cost amounted to $477 million, significantly more than an early estimate of $60 million, made in 1993.

Construction on the Sprinter track, stations, and facilities 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.[247112] However, the line was delayed until January 27 due to safety concerns. Many doubted the reliability of the safety gates at level crossings. The reliability of the safety gates was associated with poor rail conditions and the Desiro-class diesel multiple units being lighter than the freight trains.After months of use, rail conditions generally improve through grooving of the rail. On January 25, it was announced that the Sprinter's opening was postponed again, this time to March 9. The delays were caused by multiple issues. The California Public Utilities Commission did not certify the rail line until March 7, 2008, just 2 days before service began. It was also reported by North County Times that part of the problem involved the platforms at Escondido Avenue Station.

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, being heavy rail in almost all respects.

While the DMUs aren't much narrower than freight cars, the space for employeeshanging 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 Friday, September 12, 2008, the station was completed and on Monday, September 15, 2008, the station became operational.

On March 11 2008, just two days after the first passengers were carried, a westbound Sprinter train struck a man who was laying 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.


The Sprinter has encountered some dissatisfaction in northern San Diego County. For example, business owners in Oceansidemarker have attributed flooding to Sprinter, since its construction raised railroad beds and narrowed creeks. The flooding occurred in November 2007 and January 2008.

Some have also criticized the limited schedule, especially since the last westbound trains for Oceanside depart Cal State San Marcosmarker and Palomar College before 8pm.

Ridership numbers first climbed after opening to great fanfare. According to a North County Times article, the Sprinter's ridership numbers reached just under 8,000 people per day, as of March 20.

In the months following, the ridership decreased to the "mid 6,000s range" by May, 2008, but has rebounded to near 8,000 per day by October, 2008.

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.

Compass Card

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. This program is still in the pilot testing phase, and SANDAG hopes to have all bus passengers using the Compass Card by the end of 2009.

See also

External links


  1. 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."
  2. Trains, Sprinter reaches the finish line, June 2008, p. 28: "North County Transit District's 22-mile Sprinter diesel light rail line"
  3. UTU: News

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