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State Gas Tax Increase Gives $10.5 Million For New COASTER Trains

A North County Transit District Coaster train shown in this undated photo.

Credit: North County Transit District

Above: A North County Transit District Coaster train shown in this undated photo.

The North County Transit District is getting $10.5 million to purchase seven new, low-emission trains for its COASTER rail system with money from the recent gas tax and vehicle fee increase, state transportation officials announced Tuesday.

The money will cover roughly a fifth of the trains' total coast of $53.9 million. The trains are more fuel efficient, meaning NCTD will save money on diesel costs in the long run, and officials say the trains will provide faster and more reliable service. The COASTER runs from Oceanside to downtown San Diego.

"The current COASTER locomotives have reached the end of their useful life and operate with outdated emissions technology," NCTD spokeswoman Kimy Wall said in an emailed statement. "The new funding provided by SB 1 will help NCTD to procure new locomotives that meet the highest standards for emission reduction and pave the way for increased COASTER frequencies as contemplated in our regional plans."

State lawmakers narrowly passed the gas tax and vehicle increase last year. The law, called SB 1, raised the gas tax by 12 cents per gallon and imposed new vehicle fees ranging from $25 to $175, depending on the value of the car. It is expected to provide $54 billion in new transportation funding over the next decade, $7.6 billion of which will go to public transit agencies across the state.

SB 1 is also paying for a plan by the Metropolitan Transit System to increase the frequency of its most popular bus routes. That plan went into effect on Sunday.

Officials estimate that California has an infrastructure backlog of about $130 billion, due in part to drivers needing to purchase less gas as they drive more fuel efficient cars. The gas tax has also not been pegged to inflation, meaning the tax's real cost to drivers has effectively been going down. SB 1 begins pegging the gas tax and vehicle fees to inflation over time.

A citizens' initiative is underway to repeal SB 1, and campaigners have until May 21 to gather the 585,000 signatures necessary to place the measure on the November ballot. The measure would amend the state constitution and require all future gas tax increases to win approval from two-thirds of California voters.

Grants from SB 1 were also awarded to Metrolink, which connects Oceanside with Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties, and the Pacific Surfliner rail corridor, which runs from San Diego to San Luis Obispo.

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