The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 2002, Volume 48, Number 1
Gregg Hennessey, Editor

by Gena Holle

Electrified Trolley

From San Diego’s first mass transit system, a network of horsecar routes, to its electric streetcars, interurbans and light rail transit routes of today, civil engineers have played a key role. They used their problem-solving skills to map out efficient routes, pinpoint potential trouble spots and design functional yet attractive bridges, trestles and viaducts. Teamed with farsighted transportation visionaries, civil engineers have, though the years, provided the means to keep San Diego moving.

In the eyes of its residents San Diego became a progressive city July 3, 1886. That’s the day Elisha S. Babcock, Jr., and Hampton L. Story’s San Diego Streetcar Company launched the city’s first public transit system, setting the stage for future transit development. The clip-clop of mule- and horse-drawn streetcars echoed off downtown buildings as they ambled along newly laid flat iron rails from the foot of Fifth and L Streets (Fifth Street was later called Fifth Avenue) to D Street (now Broadway), then down D to the bay. Hardly rapid transit at 5 mph, but it was a beginning. Expansion was rapid, and in less than a year several lines wove through downtown with more on the way. As the network matured, switches, crossings and special trackwork were added. To streamline operations at the busy Fifth and D intersection, the switch was removed and a turntable was installed.1

No sooner had San Diego’s first transit system opened for business when a new, pioneering form of transit made a brief appearance. November 19, 1887, the Electric Rapid Transit Company debuted the city’s first electric streetcar. It was the first electric streetcar on the West Coast and second in the U.S., a claim arch-rival Los Angeles has always disputed. 2

The line traveled out Kettner Boulevard (then called Arctic) to Old Town. By December 1, though, San Diego’s first electric streetcar was history. Electric Rapid Transit leased the line from another company, the San Diego & Old Town Street Railway. The two companies disagreed over operations and equipment and decided to part ways. 3 Besides, the “troller,” the wheel-like device invented by J.C. Henry to collect electric current from an overhead wire, seemed to have a mind of its own. The troller, connected by a cable attached to the car’s roof, regularly jumped the wire, even pulling it down, to the chagrin of passengers who found wayward wires in their laps. Newspapers gleefully reported the incidents. To counter the bad press, the company placed strategic advertisements assuring reluctant riders “Sparks from the wheels will not burn you.” 4

Grand plans for electric trains to Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach were shelved and the San Diego & Old Town continued the steam dummy operation it began about a month before the electric trains arrived. A steam dummy is a locomotive with a covered or boxed-in engine. Covered engines were quieter and less likely to scare passing horses and passengers weren’t bothered by drifting cinders. 5

Yanking out its poles and wires, Electric Rapid Transit set up shop again by December 31, 1887, on a route up Fourth Street from G to Fir. It, too, shut down weeks at a time for all sorts of reasons, from tweaking the route to repairing equipment. Still, deemed a success, more grand plans were announced to build a line to El Cajon. Streetcars were eventually extended up Fourth to University Avenue, from University Avenue to University Boulevard (now Normal Street) and then to University Heights and a subdivision called Teralta, east of Boundary Street. The rail line to El Cajon never materialized. 6

Electric Rapid Transit started selling electricity in competition with San Diego Gas & Electric, which spelled trouble for the electric cars after the company was slapped with a lawsuit about the height of the light poles. Then there was San Diego’s deflating land boom. The electric light subsidiary continued to operate for several years, but in a setback for public transit the streetcars, losing about $20 per day, folded in June 1889. Horsecars or steam trains filled the gap. 7

Chaos and frenzy swirled around San Diego’s transit scene between the mid-1880s and the early 1890s. With the land boom in full swing, franchises were handed out indiscriminately. At the boom’s peak no fewer than 17 streetcar and interurban companies vied for track space downtown. Keeping up with all the start-ups and closings and name changes as owners found new destinations to conquer required constant attention.

For instance, the San Diego & Old Town, the one Electric Rapid Transit subleased, had at least four name changes plus multiple owners. After San Diego & Old Town, the company’s name changed in 1888 to San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach Railway, reflecting expansion to the beach community. Major upgrades included building a bridge across the San Diego River and an interlocking track at Morena.

A La Jolla extension followed in 1894 with another moniker, San Diego, Pacific Beach & La Jolla Railway, also known as the “Abalone Limited. ” A one-way trip from downtown San Diego took 45 minutes to an hour. Freight also was hauled on the line. 8 The line’s final incarnation April 1, 1906, was Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway, a name it held until operations ceased in 1919 when the franchise ran out. As for trains to Los Angeles? A dream that went bust. 9

Many a streetcar or interurban entrepreneur’s dreams were dampened when the land boom waned in the late 1880s. Some railways held on for a year or so, others just a few months.

The Ocean Beach Railroad was a casualty of the economic decline. Launched April 16, 1888, passengers took a ferry from San Diego to Roseville in Point Loma to ride the train to the Cliff House, a resort in Ocean Beach. But when William Carlson, the railroad’s owner, who was also a partner in Cliff House, neglected to pay rent due to the Pacific Coast Steam Company for the steam dummy it was renting, the steamship company seized the rails, to Carlson’s dismay. That was the end of the Ocean Beach Railroad after only three months. 10

Another short-lived line was the Park Belt Motor Road, also known as the City & University Heights Railroad and University Heights Motor Road. It was built to lure buyers to real estate developments from a terminal at 18th and A. The 10-mile line traveled circuitously through City Park (Balboa Park today) and Switzer Canyon to what is now Marlborough Street before heading back downtown via Fifth Street. It opened July 7, 1888, but in about a year it went into receivership and shut down. 11

Many San Diegans are surprised to learn that the city once had cable cars. Organized in 1888 by John C. Fisher, David D. Dare and C.W. Collins, the San Diego Cable Railway Company built a 4.7-mile cable car line from Sixth and L downtown to Park and Adams. At Sixth and C it jogged left to Fourth, up Fourth to University, east on University to Normal then north to Park and east on Adams.

Frank Van Vleck, the company’s chief engineer, selected a 3-foot-6-inch gauge for the track and used cast iron cable yokes on four-foot centers rather than conventional wooden ties. Unlike San Francisco’s famous cable cars, San Diego was a single-track operation with two cables beneath a single slot instead of the usual double-track single-cable operation. The gripman selected from an uphill or downhill cable option.

A power plant at Fourth and Spruce kept the 51,000 feet of cable moving, driven by two coal-fired steam engines. Average speed of the cars was 8 mph, but on straightaways they would zip along at 10 mph. Spruce Street had a turntable as did each terminal.

Van Vleck and Fisher designed the cable cars, 12 double-truck cars that deposited riders at Park and Adams and the Bluffs, a popular recreation area overlooking Mission Valley that was later called Mission Cliff Gardens. Dubbed palaces on wheels, the plush cars had curtained stained glass windows, kerosene dome lights and electric buzzers. And each had a name such as Point Loma or San Ysidora instead of numbers.

The line opened June 7, 1890; 13 months later it folded. Besides competition from other rail lines and a sagging economy, the company’s backer, California National Bank (both Dare and Collins were bank officers), failed, taking the cable cars, then losing about $1,100 per month, down with it. Dare vanished with $200,000 in bank funds, and Collins, on the verge of arrest for bank fraud, committed suicide. 12

Public transit during this period was a mishmash of confusion, but getting city leaders to settle on a plan was not happening. As if on-cue, John D. Spreckels arrived. He was a wealthy San Francisco businessman who had visited San Diego at the height of the boom in 1887. He returned regularly, and with his brother Adolph, started making investments. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Spreckels made San Diego his primary home. About the time the boom was busting the Spreckels brothers bailed out several distressed businesses, including the Hotel del Coronado, which included a one-third stake in the San Diego Streetcar Company, the horse car operator. San Diegans hoped the Spreckels’ touch would reverse the city’s fortunes. 13

Spreckels acquired the remaining interest in the San Diego Streetcar Company January 30, 1892, for $115,000. His plan of action was already in motion. On November 30, 1891, he had formed the San Diego Electric Railway Company (SDERy) and plotted routes and made plans to buy up every steam and electric rail franchise that he could, to create a uniform all-electric public transportation system. Among his acquisitions were the National City & Otay Railway, the Coronado Railroad, the defunct Park Belt Motor Road and the Citizens Traction Company, which had purchased the cable car line and converted it to electric operation. 14

Skeptics questioned Spreckels’ decision to take on such a huge project during an economic downturn. But a party atmosphere prevailed September 21, 1892, when San Diego’s first electric-powered double-decker streetcar launched the San Diego Electric Railway.

Within just a few years Spreckels had created one of the best streetcar systems in the nation with the last horsecar line converted to electric power in 1896. But that didn’t mean he lacked competition or detractors. New rail lines cropped up such as the South Park & East Side Railway in 1906 and the Point Loma Railroad in 1907, but every new company formed seemed destined to end up in Spreckels’ hands, if it didn’t go out of business first. 15

mass transit

City movers and shakers, seeing the Spreckels name plastered on just about everything, felt San Diego was becoming too much of a one-man town. In 1910, to show they were not Spreckels’ puppets, the City Council denied his request to extend the streetcar franchise. Spreckels simply put a referendum on the ballot and voters approved it February 15, 1911, by a 2-to-1 margin. 16

Designing routes and bridges kept civil engineers busy through the first quarter of the century. SDERy had its own engineering department and records and maps note Andrew Ervast as the company’s chief engineer throughout the Spreckels era.

Two large projects stand out. The first, in 1916, was construction of mixed-use-electric interurban and freight-lines to Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla. This route posed a complex situation for engineers not unlike engineers today face when planning light rail extensions. Before Pacific Highway was built, Barnett Avenue was the main thoroughfare and it already had a fair share of railway traffic from the Point Loma Railroad and Santa Fe. Engineers needed to find an alternative to building another at-grade line, which would add to traffic congestion. Lowering the highway to drop under the existing tracks at Witherby Street and building a single-track viaduct for the new line to pass over the tracks and highway was the solution. The approaches to the bridge consisted of five pile timber bents, or piers, and stringers, or girders. Concrete abutments were built to carry the beach line’s track over Santa Fe’s tracks on what was called a long-span “through” steel girder bridge; the section over Witherby Street was a “deck” plate girder bridge. The project included rebuilding the existing Mission Bay Bridge and separating auto traffic from the trains by moderately elevating the tracks through Mission Beach. 17

Equally challenging was the new Park Line in 1917, a one-and-a-half-mile line that extended routes from downtown through Balboa Park to make faster connections with lines on University. Three new steel bridges were required across the canyons north of Laurel Street, totaling $60,000. The rails cost $15,000, and the overhead wires and poles cost an additional $15,000. When completed, observers said it resembled the roadbed and track of a transcontinental railway rather than a streetcar line. That the project went over budget, wasn’t a surprise. Final cost for the short extension was more than $125,000. 18

mission bay bridge

A 1914-15 invasion of jitney buses-touring cars or other large vehicles-operated by entrepreneurs who cruised streetcar stops enticing would-be transit riders with promises of a faster ride for the same fare cost SDERy more than $400,000 in revenue during that period, and thus began the slow decline of the streetcar system. Private automobile ownership rose, too, cutting into SDERy’s revenues. Judged as more efficient and flexible, buses began displacing streetcar lines by 1924. The death of John Spreckels June 7, 1926, seemed to exacerbate the situation. More riders became drivers and because of mounting losses, SDERy couldn’t afford to replace their streetcars immediately, which was a trend seen nationally. 19

Wanting to win back streetcar passengers, a group of transit executives and manufacturers joined forces to design a standardized rail transit vehicle that would be cost-effective to operate and maintain. The result was the Presidents Conference Committee car, or PCC. The streamlined cars featured automobile-style controls, fast acceleration and deceleration, a triple braking system and quiet, rubber insulated wheels and riggings. San Diego ordered 28 PCCs, and was, in 1937, among the first cities to take delivery. The new cars did little to slow the popularity of the automobile. Streetcars continued disappearing at an alarming rate. Gone were the La Playa, Ocean Beach and Ocean View lines. Rail transit to La Jolla ended September 16, 1940. 20

The Pearl Harbor attack December 7, 1941, temporarily halted the streetcar purging. Gas rationing sidelined auto owners’ wanderings, and during the war effort San Diego’s population doubled as workers arrived from around the nation to meet aircraft plants’ beefed-up production schedules. SDERy carried more passengers in 1945 than there were people in the United States. Streetcars were in again. So in that San Diego had a shortage and had to buy used cars from Salt Lake City, Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, and New York. Others destined for the scrap heap received reprieves. Bounty hunters got $10 for each new motorman hired, and women-San Diego was reportedly the first in the nation to do this-were recruited to operate streetcars and buses. 21

Wartime shortages posed a dilemma for SDERy’s vice president and general manager Sam Mason. He wanted to reopen an abandoned rail line out Kettner Boulevard for workers at Consolidated Aircraft but he didn’t have enough steel ties to complete the job. Mason scoured junk yards, buying 1,000 steel beds and cutting the angle irons that supported the springs into 4-feet-by-8-inch tie lengths; it wasn’t long before the streetcars were rolling again. 22

At war’s end the love affair with autos was rekindled, sending streetcars back to the scrap heap. Only three rail lines were operating by March 1, 1948, and they were short-timers. After 56 years in the Spreckels family, Jesse Haugh’s Western Transit Company bought SDERy for $5.5 million, July 26, 1948. According to public records, SDERy had a net loss of more than $1.7 million during Spreckels’ ownership. A moneymaker it wasn’t, but it more than adequately served the people. 23

Haugh retooled the company immediately, declaring streetcars were too expensive, too slow, too noisy and caused traffic jams. First on the agenda was a name-change to San Diego Transit, then an application to the Public Utilities Commission to end streetcar service. New buses were ordered and on the way. The last day of rail service was Sunday, April 24, 1949. San Diego held many “firsts” when it came to public transit. Now it was the first major California city to eliminate streetcars. 24

True, the automobile took a big bite out of public transit. But speculation that big business and politics swayed the move away from street railways to buses abounded. Many schools of thought exist about the conspiracy theory between bus manufacturers, oil and tire companies and the demise of rail transit.

Haugh’s modern buses didn’t spark new business. A lack of business sparked major route cuts, fare hikes and driver layoffs. By 1963 Haugh said he’d be out of business within two years if things didn’t improve, and suggested a public takeover of the transit system. The City Council of San Diego presented a ballot proposition that provided for city ownership of San Diego Transit. Upon voter approval in 1966, the city paid Haugh $2 million for the bus company. 25

What San Diego really needed was a board to oversee transit development. A 1965 national study said San Diego should start building a rapid transit system by 1980 if it wanted to stay ahead or at least even with its expected traffic growth. 26

A transit board was finally born January 1, 1976. The Metropolitan Transit Development Board, or MTDB, was created by the passage of California Senate Bill 101. That it ever happened was largely due to the persistence of President pro Tempore Senator James R. Mills (D-San Diego) who penned several pieces of legislation that led to the development of mass transit programs locally and statewide. The legislation included some gas tax and highway user monies for transit development. But the clock was ticking. San Diego had only five years from the time the money was allocated to plan and implement a mass transit system or the funds would revert to the state. 27

If there was such a thing as a transit god, it appeared in San Diego September 10, 1976, offering a perfect solution to the mass transit dilemma. On that date, tropical storm Kathleen had destroyed major sections of the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway’s (SD&AE) Desert Line. Besides the Desert Line, SD&AE owned rights of-way ideal for rail transit lines, one to the Mexican border at San Ysidro, the other to the City of El Cajon. 28

After the 1976 storm Southern Pacific (SP), the owner of the line, filed for abandonment but the Interstate Commerce Commission denied the application. In 1978 MTDB convinced SP to part with the 108-mile right-of-way for just $18.1 million, and repair it to pre-Kathleen standards. If city and county officials accepted MTDB’s plans, the Board would acquire right of-way for the backbone of its rail transit system.

The County Supervisors approved MTDB’s blueprint for a San Ysidro rail line in June 1978, but the City Council wasn’t buying; its members had doubts about future funding and the prospect of new taxes. The City Council would make or break the deal. After much wrangling, MTDB emerged the victor on October 25, 1978, though City Council holdouts predicted the whole affair would be a “trolley folly.” 29

MTDB selected the “South Line,” a line from downtown to the border, as its first line. MTDB’s South Line wouldn’t be the first rail transit on that corridor. From 1887, the National City & Otay Railway operated steam trains between downtown San Diego, National City, Chula Vista and Otay near the Mexican border. Spreckels purchased the line in 1907, electrifying some routes. By the mid-1920s, after mergers and name changes, business had dropped off considerably. Rail service on the route ended in 1930. 30

Because the new system, to be called the San Diego Trolley, would use an existing right-of-way, it was upgraded quickly to standards for both light rail and freight use. Engineers took a low-cost design approach that would fall within the $86 million budget. With a lean budget and no federal funding, the initial line was mostly single-track to reduce the number of new bridges needed as well as other costs. 31

Opening day was July 26, 1981, after a week of free rides for dignitaries and residents. The Trolley was on-time and under budget. Rail fans and reporters flocked to San Diego for the historic happening, lining the route for a glimpse of the bright-red Siemens-Duewag U-2 light rail vehicles (LRVs). Fourteen articulated cars were ordered for $11.4 million. The low-end models without air conditioning or heat were part of the effort to save costs. The only glitch was its operating schedule. Fifteen-minute intervals, or headways, were too ambitious for the single-track operation and had to be increased to 20-minute headways. Still, the segment was very popular as the average 43-minute rail trip was more comfortable and faster than the 80-minute bus ride.

By February 1983 double-tracking was complete and 15-minute headways instituted. Ten new LRVs were also added to the fleet. Best of all, at 80 percent to 90 percent, the ratio of revenue to operating costs, also known as farebox returns, was well above the national average of 30 percent to 40 percent. 32

El Cajon was the Trolley’s next route with preliminary engineering underway by 1982. Creative financing, the sale and leaseback of the LRVs, created a war chest to buy property for stations. The East Line would follow a route similar to the 1889 San Diego, Cuyamaca & Eastern Railroad, traveling through Encanto, La Mesa and Lemon Grove to El Cajon. While the South Line came together quickly, the East Line moved relatively slowly waiting for funding. For the first time, MTDB was applying for federal funds, which with the South Line’s success were in demand by other cities wanting light rail. Funding from the state was iffy, too, because of budget cutbacks. Money became available to build the line in increments and on March 26, 1986, trains started running out Commercial Avenue to Euclid Avenue on the Euclid segment. The next segment, Spring Street, from Euclid to La Mesa, opened mid-May 1989, and then the El Cajon segment, from La Mesa to El Cajon opened June 25, 1989. East Line trains were equipped with heat and air-conditioning due to the area’s weather extremes. 33

Improvements were made to the East Line to make it suitable for both light rail and freight trains. The $33 million Euclid project and the $108 million East Line project were finished on time and within budget; the East Line was completed $3 million under budget. Surplus funds were used later to complete bridge double-tracking over Interstate 8, 805 and 94, along with other work. MTDB construction engineer Bill Prey recalled that MTDB had to add special trackwork at Imperial Junction so LRVs could transfer from downtown trackage. “And there were areas where the conditions were less than ideal, for example along the horseshoe curve, east of 32nd Street Station,” he said.

Sun kinks, warping caused by the thermal expansion of the metal rail when exposed to the sun, made the ride through the horseshoe curve a rough one requiring 15-mph slow orders. Eliminating the curve was an option, but that required extensive reengineering and acquiring new land. The resulting steep grade would have been a problem for freight trains, too. So engineers redesigned the horseshoe curve and it was reconstructed, increasing the superelevation, adding new ballast, replacing wooden ties with concrete ones and rebuilding a trestle. Upon completion, Trolley speeds were raised to 30 mph, which shaved 90 seconds off the schedule. 34

An existing bridge over Interstate-805 was another obstacle for engineers. It was too narrow to build two tracks and MTDB couldn’t afford to build an additional bridge immediately. To solve the problem, engineers designed a “gauntlet” section of track in which two tracks interweave onto one set of ties, allowing travel in both directions over the narrow bridge. Railroad signals controlled access across the bridge to maintain safe operations. Eventually MTDB received funding to build the additional bridge; later more bridges were added to complete the double-tracking of the entire line.

In La Mesa, the contractor built a prizewinning span over Jackson Drive. Adorned with dozens of attractive terraced planters, the sleek innovative bridge won the bridge’s design firm the San Diego section of the Society of Civil Engineers award for the 1989 Outstanding Civil Engineering Project. 35

The Trolley has continued to grow, with openings of the Bayside Line, June 1990 (now part of the Orange Line, formally called East Line), and the Santee extension from El Cajon (August 1995), also on the Orange Line. 36 On the South Line, now known as the Blue Line, a section to Cedar Street opened July 1992, followed by the Old Town segment to Taylor Street in June 1996. As the Trolley system continued to expand, conflicts with the automobile at street crossings increased. The Trolley was given the priority at street crossings to maintain safe operations and to obtain its relatively high average speed. At major intersections MTDB began to consider bridging over the intersection. At the beginning of the Old Town design, the designer planned to elevate the Trolley over Grape Street and Hawthorn Street to avoid impacting the heavy automobile traffic on these streets. Harborview residents balked at the idea of an elevated structure, saying their bay views would be ruined and property values reduced. In a compromise, the track was elevated over Laurel Street and built underground between Grape and Hawthorne. In November 1997 the Blue Line was extended to Rancho Mission Road and Qualcomm Stadium, then called Jack Murphy Stadium. 37

In Mission Valley, the idea of building a rail line raised eyebrows. “It was MTDB’s first major departure from the railroad right-of-way, and it created a lot of engineering challenges,” said Gordon Lutes, Senior Vice President, ProjectDesign Consultants. Not only did the Mission Valley West line present engineering challenges to the designer, but there were political challenges, too. Most of the right-of-way had to be obtained from public and private sources, and protest groups tried blocking the expansion. Much of the proposed alignment was in the 100-year San Diego River floodplain. The engineering solution to the flooding hazard was to elevate the alignment either on dirt embackments or on bridge structures. The bridge structures used 9-foot cast-in drilled-hole piles for bridge column foundations with each column surrounded by a zone of compaction grouting for protection from soil liquefaction caused by an earthquake.

For the Mission Valley West segment an on-time completion was imperative, and another challenge. San Diego was hosting the 1998 Super Bowl. Parking was limited and some 73,000 attendees were expected, so officials were counting on the Trolley to meet expectations of moving 6,000 to 10,000 people per half hour to and from the event and related activities.

With three crossings over the San Diego River, three elevated stations, crossing over a 12- lane freeway and under three freeways, at $223 million, this was MTDB’s most expensive light rail project to date. When the extension opened in November 1997, it was a rousing success, and yes, it was on time for the Super Bowl. More than 20,000 people used the new line to get to and from the stadium. 38

Currently under construction, the Mission Valley East extension will extend the Mission Valley line from Rancho Mission Road via San Diego State University (SDSU) to connect with the Orange Line at Grossmont Center. This extension has given the design team and MTDB new challenges. The line segment design includes that portion of the alignment from Rancho Mission Road to the SDSU west tunnel portal and from the east tunnel portal to where it connects with the existing Orange Line in La Mesa. According to Jim Hecht, MTDB’s project manager, a high escarpment leading up to SDSU, relatively large changes in elevation, crossing over I-8, existing development and allowing for the future expansion of I-8 created engineering challenges and didn’t leave many options for the Trolley’s route up to SDSU. Hecht identified the engineering challenges east of SDSU to include a narrow corridor to avoid impacting existing development, going under 70th Street, going over I-8, maintaining or improving flood control for Alvarado Creek, and minimizing traffic impacts during construction. 39

According to Siegfried Fassman, Vice President and Chief Engineer of URS, the company selected to lead the team to do final design engineering for the tunnel and underground station, it will be one of the largest tunnels on the West Coast, at 37 feet in diameter. Building a U-shaped quarter-mile-long tunnel under the university along with an underground station was the least disruptive plan. “Construction will include the New Austrian Tunnel Method (NATM) as well as two cut and cover boxes,” said Fassman. In Europe, NATM has been used since the 1950s. Using this method of tunneling reduces construction costs because it maximizes use of the self-bearing capacity of the ground during the excavation process. After each blasting of rock the ceiling and sides are sprayed with concrete, also called shotcrete, for stabilization. The station, near Aztec Center, will be about 50 to 60 feet below ground.

Fassman described the guideway, starting about a mile and a half from Grantville Station, as roller-coaster-like. It will lead up a long-distance grade of 4.3 percent-maximum for the LRV’s capacity-flattening out at the underground station. A new transit center is in the works along with a new futuristic-looking 225-foot pedestrian bridge across College Avenue. The tunnel and station work should be finished by fall 2003 with the line open by late 2004. Total expected cost for the entire Mission Valley East segment is $431 million. 40

The three major civil/structural contracts are all underway on the Mission Valley East project. The trackwork and systems contract will be awarded by mid-2002. Eighty percent of the project is funded by the Federal Transportation Administration. 41


Looking toward the future, preliminary engineering is underway on a 10.7-mile route from Old Town to the University of California, San Diego and to North University City. MTDB is also studying extensions to the South Bay and Mission Bay, and is still exploring the feasibility of reopening SD&AE’s Desert Line. In North County, the North County Transit District’s 22-mile diesel-hauled rail line between Oceanside and Escondido, which will mirror the San Diego Central Railroad Company’s 1887 line, should be running by mid-2005. It will connect with Coaster commuter trains operating between San Diego and Oceanside since February 1995. 42

At its apex, Spreckels’ SDERy operated 110 rail miles, costing $8.6 million; construction took about 39 years. As of January 2002, MTDB was operating 46.8 rail miles, built over 22 years with a price tag of about $752.2 million. While San Diego hasn’t caught up with the Spreckels system, it’s off to a good start. And, San Diego was lucky to have someone with foresight, James Mills, who like Spreckels appeared as if on-cue, to turn around San Diego’s transit fortunes. Now it’s up to future generations and those problem-solving civil engineers to keep the momentum going, to keep luring drivers out of their cars, and to keep the trains running in San Diego.


1.”Dispatcher”, Issue 27, September 1, 1959, p. 3.

2.Transit Topics April-May 1949 p. 4; San Diego Union, January 8, 1974, p. X-5. Unlike the two previous sources, the “Dispatcher,” Issue 34, November 15, 1960, p. 5, indicates San Diego was the second electric street railway on the Pacific Coast and that Los Angeles was first.

3.”Dispatcher,” Issue 34, November 15, 1960, pp. 7, 9; Richard F. Pourade, The History of San Diego, The Glory Years, Volume Four, Union-Tribune Publishing Company, 1964, p. 184. The previous sources did not indicate Electric Rapid transit was a subsidiary of another company, but a document from the San Diego Historical Society (no date, title or author) notes Electric Rapid Transit was a subsidiary of the San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach Railroad.

4.San Diego County Historical Scrapbook, Union Title Insurance and Trust Company; no date or paper name.

5.Richard V. Dodge, Rails of the Silver Gate, Golden West Books, 5th Printing, March 1975, p. 19; “Dispatcher,” Issue 34, November 15, 1960, p. 9.

6.Rails of the Silver Gate, p. 21; San Diego City & County Directory 1887-8. Extensive research did not pinpoint the proposed rail line’s exact route to El Cajon; the line to Teralta operated over a circuitous route that included Monroe Avenue, Florida Street and Jackson Avenue, east to Boundary. It appears, from Map 571 II, 1888, San Diego History Center Map Collection, that Jackson Avenue may be Meade Avenue today.


8.Ibid, pp. 19, 20; Famous Firsts in San Diego, April 12, 1967, Historical Collection Title Insurance & Trust Company (publication name unknown; San Diego Library Transportation files); Howard S.F. Randolph, La Jolla Year by Year, The Library Association of La Jolla, 1955, p. 44.

9.Rails of the Silver Gate, p. 46.

10.Ibid., p. 22.

11.Ibid., pp. 20, 21; The Glory Years, p. 218.

12.Rails of the Silver Gate, p. 20; San Diego Union-Tribune, April 5, 1992, p. C-4; San Diego Union January 22, 1967, p. G-1.

13.H. Austin Adams, The Man John D. Spreckels, Frye & Smith, 1924, pp. 162, 182.

14.Transit Topics April-May 1949, pp. 5, 7, 8.

15.Rails of the Silver Gate, pp. 44, 45; Frederick Reif document from San Diego History Center collection, no date; San Diego Union, August 11, 1963, p. H-1.

16.The Man John D. Spreckels, p. 197; Rails of the Silver Gate, p. 54.

17.Rails of the Silver Gate, p. 82; San Diego Electric Railway blueprints, San Diego Railroad Museum collection; interview with Mark Lowthian, Sr., February 11, 2002, San Diego, California.

18.San Diego Union, May 11, 1917, p. 5, Ibid., May 25, 1917, p. 9. Figures listed in Rails of the Silver Gate, p. 65, are different from the one’s reported in the news articles.

19.Rails of the Silver Gate, p. 89.

20.Ibid., p. 97.

21.Ibid., page 104; Tribune-Sun, July 8, 1942, p. A-16.

22.San Diego Union February 8, 1942, p. B-1.

23.Rails of the Silver Gate, p. 110.

24.Ibid., p. 114.

25.Gena Holle, The San Diego Trolley, Interurban Press 1990, pp. 23, 24; San Diego Union, December 15, 1991, p. F-1.

26.The San Diego Trolley, pp. 23, 24.

27.Ibid., pp. 25, 26; Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) Fact Sheet, “Metropolitan Transit Development Board,” July 2001.

28.Ibid., p. 28.

29.Ibid., p. 28-31.

30.Ibid., p. 33.

31.Rick Thorpe, senior engineer MTDB, “Construction of the San Diego Light Rail System in an Era of Fiscal Constraint,” March 1982 report; Bechtel Corporation was the design firm for the San Diego Trolley’s South Line.

32.The San Diego Trolley, pp. 41, 45.

33.Ibid., p. 47.

34.Phone interview with William Prey, construction engineer, MTDB, February 1, 2002, San Diego, California; Boyle Engineering led the team to redesign the horseshoe curve.

35.Phone interview with William Prey, construction engineer, MTDB, February 1 2002, San Diego, California; Herzog Contracting Corporation built the bridge over Jackson Drive; McDaniel Engineering designed the bridge.

36.Herzog was the principle contractor on the South Line and was also the major prime contractor on the Euclid project, the East Line project’s Spring Street segment and the Bayside project; L.K. Comstock, Inc., was the prime contractor for the East Line project’s El Cajon segment contract; National Projects, Inc., constructed the Santee project.

37.Parsons Transportation Group was the design firm for the Old Town segment; Herzog was the principle prime contractor on the Old Town project and the Mission Valley West project stadium segment contract; FCI Constructors were the prime contractors on the Morena segment of the Mission Valley West project.

38.MTDB Fact Sheet Mission Valley East Light Rail Transit Project, July 1999; Phone interview with Gordon Lutes, Senior Vice President ProjectDesign Consultants, February 11, 2002, San Diego, California; Gordon Lutes, San Diego’s Mission Valley West LRT Extension Takes You Out to the Ball Game, June 1994 American Public Transportation Association Rapid Transit Conference report; Boyle Engineering Corporation was the Mission Valley West line’s designer.

39.Mission Valley Designers was the line segment designer for the Mission Valley East Line in a joint venture between Parsons Brinckerhoff and Parsons Transportation Group.

40.Interview with Siegfried Fassman, Vice President, URS Corporation, February 5, 2002, San Diego, California.

41.Washington Infrastructure Service, Inc., is performing construction management on the Mission Valley East project; Modern Continental Construction Co. is the prime contractor on the Grantville segment, Clark Construction Group, Inc., on the SDSU tunnel and underground station contract, and Balfour Beatty/Ortiz Enterprises, Inc., on the La Mesa segment; information provided by Bill Prey, MTDB, and Gordon Lutes, Project Design Consultants.

42.MTDB Fact Sheet, San Diego Regional Transit Corridor Plan, April 1999.