Commentary By Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

On Friday January 11th I had a quick turnaround trip to Oceanside on a RailPAC errand that resulted in my spending about 90 minutes at the Transit Center. My observations are about the Transit Center rather than the trainride and I’m trying to look at it from the point of view of a new user of rail passenger service, or public transit in general. I also look at it from the point of view of the taxpayer, since just about every service at the station (except Burger King and some of the express buses) is publicly funded.

The physical layout of the Oceanside TC is good, with drop off, local transit, kiss and ride and parking all conveniently located just a short walk from the train platforms. The new Sprinter platforms are also very close so for the experienced rider the station is convenient to use. But for the 99% of the population who are not experienced riders it’s a different story. To me it’s a very sad story, because the provision of signs, announcements, useful schedules, and even a clock that’s easy to see, is almost non-existent.

The Oceanside Transit Center, with an arriving Coaster train and a waiting Metrolink train.

Just to recount what I saw and heard after arriving at about 8.00am, the southbound train I arrived on was on time, but as is often the case the announcement referred to the train number and direction, but not the station stops. A little later northbound Coaster 633 arrived and terminated on track 2. I expected an announcement to that effect, and instruction to passengers to cross to track 1 for the northbound Surfliner, but instead, total silence. A little later the agent announced that the 9.00am northbound “will now come through at 9.30”, whatever that was supposed to mean. It turned out that train 567 had been cancelled but was now reinstated. I went to ask the agent for an explanation, and was told that they had put up signs. They certainly made no announcements between 8.00am and 9.00am. A couple of would be passengers abandoned the platform and retrieved their cars from the parking lot.

At 9.23am southbound Coaster 640 left the station, again without fanfare. When the northbound Surfliner appeared it was once again referred to by train number and direction, but not once did anyone call the station stops, nor was there an apology or explanation for the delay.

For anyone arriving at the station by car or other transit, you have to hunt around to find information, ticket machines, figure out which is the next train to your destination and which type of ticket to buy from a number of machines. Inside the Amtrak office is the discouragingly negative sign, “only Amtrak tickets sold here.”

The three publicly funded rail operators should have their heads knocked together until we the taxpayers get the coordinated service we deserve. Here’s some suggestions as to how this Transit Center could, at very small cost, be improved to serve the traveling public, to give good information to the often bewildered and confused newcomer, and perhaps to ensure repeat business.

At strategic locations where people arrive provide a comprehensive departure list of ALL trains and express buses from the station, with a clock. This list can be either in chronological order or alphabetical by destination, but in any event it should inform the passenger when the next service is to their destination, the departure location, and the operator.

  • Close the Amtrak agency and open a Travel Center that sells tickets for ALL of the operators and provides information for ALL of the services. The staff could still be employed by Amtrak, which would contract with the other operators to provide these services.
  • Use the public address system for ALL arrivals and departures, with helpful messages including station stops, connections, etc. Many of these can be pre-recorded messages operated by push button.
  • Eventually provide a comprehensive ticketing system where a single machine can dispense tickets for any operator to any destination, and is smart enough to offer the best fare for the next available service.
  • Attention to detail is the key to success in business. The problem seems to be that the agencies operating public transportation to and through Oceanside don’t seem to think that they are running a business. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of empty seats on trains leaving Oceanside every day, and yet there is no comprehensive plan to provide an integrated service to attract new customers. These are just a few observations; a snapshot of one station for an hour and a half one morning, but with lessons that can be applied throughout the system. It can be tough being an advocate for passenger rail when this is the best that is offered.

    Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

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