Discussion related to commuter rail and transit operators in California past and present including Los Angeles Metrolink and Metro Subway and Light Rail, San Diego Coaster, Sprinter and MTS Trolley, Altamont Commuter Express (Stockton), Caltrain and MUNI (San Francisco), Sacramento RTD Light Rail, and others...

Moderator: lensovet

  by diburning
Hello, I am from Boston, MA, but I will be in San Diego in less than two weeks on a day trip to visit some (future) relatives. I will have time to railfan between 5 and 9PM on a wednesday, and was wondering if anyone could reccommend some good spots for decent freight and passenger action. I won't be driving and will be taking cabs or public transportation everywhere. Are there any (dangerous) places to avoid? I will be near the Allied Gardens community, and the airport, so it would preferable to stay near those spots to avoid missing my flight home.

Thanks in advance!
  by Patrick Boylan
Are you trying to imply that riding the light rail, or Tijuana Trolley, isn't railfanning? You can eat up a big chunk of that 5-9 Wed just with a round trip San Diego-San Ysidro.

I don't know why, but when I visited in the early 1990's somebody told me not to go to El Cajon since they thought it was a rough neighborhood. I didn't have enough time anyway.
  by diburning
I'm not saying that it's not railfanning, I just wanted to check out the freight (BNSF/UP) action. If there are good spots for Coaster, that would be great too, especially if they share the line with freights.

I'll definitely get shots of the SDMTS green line which runs through Mission Valley which is over by Allied Gardens. (In fact, I might take that to get to Allied Gardens)
  by Backshophoss
Your possible best bet is to stay near the ex-ATSF passenger station for Amtrak,Coaster,and trolley action.
Parts of the mainline to LA are in "valleys" or up next to the shoreline in city limits
The Marine air base of "Top Gun" fame is just north of the city limits.
SD&AE has a yard near the Mexican border and switches the area at night after trolley service shuts down.
Believe the line-haul freight rights were leased from BNSF to an other operator
UP never made it to San Diego.
  by ExCon90
Yes, Amtrak uses the former AT&SF station, which still has the big blue Santa Fe sign on the roof. In fact, I think the light-rail schedule refers to that stop as the Santa Fe station. Interesting arrangement, by the way -- the 2 light-rail tracks are between the station building and the platforms for Amtrak and Coaster trains. Can't help on the ball park.
  by diburning
I looked at a map. I think the plan right now is to buy a day pass and take the trolley from Middletown (Airport) to Mission Valley transferring from the blue to the green. Then, I'll take a cab to Allied Gardens from there and visit relatives. Afterwards, I'll take the cab back to Mission Valley and then take the trolley to the Santa Fe station. I'll grab plenty of trolley action then. If the trolley runs often later at night, I might ride further south and east to the Orange line to get photos of that as well. That way, I won't be too far from the airport.

I also noticed that there is a shuttle substitution for the blue line at Middletown for the Trolley Renewal Project. How does that work? How much buffer time should I add to my trip? Also, since the station is closed, will trolleys still operate northbound? I was thinking about walking to Middletown from the airport. As a backup plan, is Washington St closer, or is County Center closer by taxi? It looks like they'll be closing County Center soon. I will be in San Diego next Wednesday (July 25th).

Is there an official photo policy? Any rules that I should be aware of? How about local railroad/trolley radio frequencies?

  by Backshophoss
IF possible,try to find a copy of Altamont Press's "California Region Timetable". It will have most of the info you need.
While Altamont Press shut down a couple of years ago,there might some copies lurking around somewhere.
  by ExCon90
Last time I was there (2010) there was a city bus (included in the daypass) from the airport to the Santa Fe station. It would be quicker, and certainly easier, than walking to the Blue Line. When you ride the Green Line, try to find time to go as far as Grossmont before coming back; the line runs above a freeway, then plunges into the side of a hill and makes an underground stop at San Diego State, then comes back into daylight and continues to El Cajon. If you're going to do the Orange Line later, you might work it in then. (The Green Line has an interesting horseshoe curve immediately east of the street running.) By the way, if you have a window seat on the flight to SD, you'll be able to do a close-up inspection of rooftops on the final approach, including a nice view of the railroad and the trolley.
  by njtmnrrbuff
Just be careful near the international border. It's not the safest. Stay on the U.S. side because Tijuana, which is across the border, has a lot of issues with crime.

I have only ridden the Blue Line between American Plaza and San Ysidro. It's pretty interesting. A lot of the stations have good space for photography and some of the intermediate ones aren't in the best neighborhoods.

The Santa Fe Depot is very nice. In the afternoon, you should be able to get a good shot of a Pacific Surfliner Consist, with the sunlight illuminating on the nose of the locomotive. Coaster's engine's face north.

I'm probably going to be in San Diego this September and when I'm there, I want to finish up riding whatever MTS Lines I haven't.
  by ExCon90
Don't miss the Green Line.
  by njtmnrrbuff
Old Town is definately safe.

I will be riding the Green Line when I'm in San Diego. In fact, I plan to do a circuit when I'm there; take the Green to Santee Town Center, spend some time in the shopping center and transitfanning there. Afterwards, I'll take the Green to Gillepsie Field, switch to the Orange Line, which I would take to 12th and Imperial Transit Center. I plan to stop at intermediate points and take pictures, as well.
  by diburning
I sat at the Santa Fe depot today. I got a few shots of Coaster and Amtrak, but nothing good (the buildings all cast shadows).

The security guard threw me out. He said that if I don't have an Amtrak ticket (MTS pass and coaster tickets did not count), I could not be there. Dissatisfied with his reasoning, I called MTS to clarify who owns what property and what the photography policies are.

MTS told me that they have no official policy and that the common sense policy is that I can take photos to my heart's content as long as I do not trespass onto the tracks or into areas that are not open to the public. They also said that the Santa Fe Depot building, and the 2 closest tracks are MTS property. The 3 coaster tracks belong to the North County Transportation District, and the far track belonged to Amtrak. The security guard was not an Amtrak police officer, and did not appear to work for MTS, so I tried calling NCTD to see what their policy was, but they had already closed for the day.

So, I decided to take the trolley up to Old Town and sit at that grade crossing north of the station. I'm glad I did. The shots came out way better than the ones at the Santa Fe depot.

I waited and waited for that northbound BNSF freight, but by the time the Coasters stopped running, and having not seen it, I decided to leave since the freight probably wasn't running today or is running late.

The police went by a few times, but I was never bothered. Go figure.