San Diego: A train rider’s paradise
San Diego is not a hotbed of rail activity, making train watching a hit or miss adventure. However, if you are looking to ride the rails, there’s no better place than San Diego.
Amtrak will get you from downtown San Diego to Los Angeles with a few stops along the way.
The Coaster will get you from downtown San Diego to Oceanside. From there you can take Metrolink to Los Angeles or the Sprinter east to Escondido.
Then there is the San Diego Trolley, or light rail system that has been going strong for 31 years. In August 2011, the Trolley, run by the Metropolitan Transit System, added a vintage PCC streetcar that was built in 1949:
During World War II, streetcar service increased dramatically in cities throughout North America. As soon as the war ended, though, streetcar service began to decline in favor of rubber-wheeled busses which were more maneuverable and required less maintenance. San Diego was the first major city to switch over completely from streetcars to busses, with the last streetcar running in April 1949.
PCC #529 originally operated in San Francisco. It was bought by San Diego Vintage Trolley (a non-profit subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transit System) from a collector in South Lake Tahoe, California. Although it was in poor condition, dozens of volunteers spent more than 10,000 hours over six years restoring it to operating condition, and it made its first run on the downtown loop on August 18, 2011.
San Diego Vintage Trolley has five more streetcars purchased at the same time and which will be renovated for use in San Diego. Two were also used in San Francisco, while the other three were used in New Jersey and southeast Pennsylvania.
Take a ride on PCC #529 on the downtown Silver Line loop with stops at the Gaslamp Quarter, Petco Park, Seaport Village, the harbor, East Village, San Diego Convention Center, America Plaza, the Civic Center, and San Diego City College.
The Silver Line Vintage Trolley takes about 25 minutes to travel the full loop, and travel is in a clockwise direction only, just in case you need to make it somewhere. The fare is just $2, $1 for seniors and disabled. Children five and under ride free. You must have exact change. Although the PCC #529 can accomodate wheelchairs, only one wheelchair can be handled at a time.
The Silver Line operates on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. First departure on Tuesdays and Thursdays is from the 12th & Imperial Transit Center at 9:52 a.m. Last run departs at 1:52 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, first run departs from the 12th & Imperial Transit Center at 10:52 am with the last run departing at 3:22 p.m.
If you are interested in helping preserve the history of the San Diego streetcar system or helping with restoration, join the San Diego Electric Railway Association (SDERA). SDERA operates the National City Depot at 922 W. 23rd Street in National City. The historic Santa Fe railroad station has a museum, railroad cars, a large model railroad, and a gift shop. The National City Depot is open Thursday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Monthly meetings of SDERA are held at the National City Depot on the second Saturday of the month at 7:30 p.m.