When we made our long post about beach access a month ago, we were convinced that the planned at-grade crossing over the railroad tracks at Montgomery Avenue was the right long term answer for safe and legal beach access. The new crossing neatly addressed the access issue created by the NCTD-mandated fence along the rail trail.
Since we made our post, new information has come to light that makes us very concerned about the Montgomery crossing project. There was some big news from the Encinitas City Council meeting on February 24 where City staff stated that a Railroad Quiet Zone could not be established around the Montgomery crossing after all (because the Quiet Zone rules were apparently intended for vehicular crossings and not pedestrian crossings). This was a dramatic development and caught all of us by surprise.
The inability to establish a Quiet Zone at Montgomery is a tremendous blow. Without a Quiet Zone, trains will be required to sound their horns before they reach the crossing, resulting in a significant and unacceptable increase in noise for Cardiff residents to the north and south of Montgomery. The only way to stop the train horns is to install a system of wayside horns which are basically speakers mounted at the crossing site that blare out a simulated train horn sound as warning for an approaching train. Wayside horns would have less noise impact on Cardiff than train horns but may be unacceptably loud for the students at the nearby school and the residents in the surrounding houses, especially since the wayside horns sound for longer periods than the actual train horns. We need to know much more about wayside horns before we would support them as a substitute for a Quiet Zone.
We also have some concerns about aligning the completion dates for the rail trail fence and the crossing. We recently engaged all of the parties involved (the City Council, NCTD, and SANDAG) to advocate for coordinating the rail trail fence and crossing projects to ensure uninterrupted beach access in all reasonable scenarios. After a round of meetings and correspondence, we know that all the folks involved with these projects have empathy for the community and good intentions all around. There is a desire to work together to make sure there is no gap in beach access caused by staggered completion dates. However, there is still uncertainty. It’s unclear exactly how long the CPUC approval process for the crossing will take. Complexity is also introduced by having so many huge construction projects happening in the rail corridor at the same time (in addition to the rail trail and the Montgomery crossing, SANDAG is building a new railroad bridge across San Elijo Lagoon, double-tracking south of Montgomery, and overhauling the Chesterfield intersection). At this point it seems likely that the fence and the crossing completion dates will line up to avoid a gap in access because it makes sense to build the fence as the last component of all these combined projects. But there are a lot of moving parts and no guarantees. More work needs to be done here.
The combination of the Quiet Zone news and the uncertainty around project timing have caused us to rethink our near term priorities. While we love the rail trail as part of a tapestry of improvements that work together – connecting our communities and creating a network of safe and legal crossings at Chesterfield, Montgomery, and Santa Fe – we also believe that the Montgomery crossing is an essential part of the overall plan.
Our advocacy for the Cardiff Rail Trail is conditioned on preserving beach access, which is a core value for the Cardiff community and for us. At this point we believe we owe it to our community to temporarily shift our focus from advocating for the rail trail to advocating for a clear and credible plan for the Montgomery crossing that ensures beach access. It’s the right move for our supporters (who now number over 1,700).
For the record, our preference and our recommendation is to fund and build a grade-separated crossing at Montgomery Avenue to avoid the issues with Quiet Zones, wayside horns, and CPUC approvals. We understand that there will be additional cost involved but it’s the right answer.
The council will take up the Montgomery crossing at a future meeting, possibly soon. We will provide an update after the meeting.
There will also almost certainly be a future community meeting in Cardiff to discuss the crossing as well. We will keep you posted and we encourage everyone to show up for that meeting when it happens.
Most of the updates to our web site and our Facebook page going forward will be concerned with the Montgomery crossing until the issues around it are resolved. If other news breaks on the rail trail we will of course share it; for example, we’re expecting renderings of the new rail trail at some point in the coming weeks. But our focus will be on the crossing for a while. When we all have a plan for the crossing that feels solid, then we’ll go back to advocating for the trail.