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SPRINTER Rail Service To Shut Down Due To Bad Brake Rotors

North County Transit District's SPRINTER rail line, which runs between Escondido and Oceanside carrying 7,800 passengers a day, will be taken off the tracks at midnight Friday for 60 to 120 days to replace worn brake rotors. The NCTD said it is developing bus replacement services.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

A bad rotor, similar to the ones found on SPRINTER light rails.

North County Transit District's SPRINTER rail line, which runs between Escondido and Oceanside carrying 7,800 passengers a day, may be taken off the tracks for as long as four months to replace worn brake rotors.

Matthew Tucker, the executive director of the North County Transit District, said the rotors "don't meet the standards of compliance," but the light rail vehicles "are still safe to operate."

California's Public Utilities Commission identified the faulty rotors last week during an inspection, according to Tucker, and the utility commission is expected to issue a statement tomorrow.

“They don’t have the authority to shut us down,” said Tucker, “they can make a recommendation.” But ultimately, he said, North County Transit District made the final call.

Two SPRINTER vehicles were taken off the tracks Thursday night for testing.

The announcement to suspend service came as a total shock to Cal State San Marcos freshman Karina Hernandez. She rides the Sprinter three days a week to and from Escondido. Hernandez said now she'll have to drive her car and deal with the traffic on Highway 78.

"It means I'd have to pay for more gas, and it's very expensive," she said. "And it's really ridiculous because people really need it. Not just me, others who don't have cars, need to get to work."

That includes commuter John Overman. He doesn't drive because he's visually impaired. Overman said the Sprinter shutdown really fouls him up.

"'Cause I go back and forth to Oceanside, and back and forth from Oceanside to San Diego on a regular basis," he said. "I take the Coaster and the Sprinter."

Photo credit: NCTD

The SPRINTER rail line runs between Escondido and Oceanside.

The North County Transit District contracts out the maintenance and operations of SPRINTER vehicles to Veolia Transportation, which in turn contracts out to Bombardier Transportation.

To address the economic downturn in 2008, Tucker downsized North County’s operations dramatically by contracting out much of the agency’s services to private contractors. A recent inewsource investigation raised questions about the oversight of these contracts and the safety implications.

Tucker says the companies under contract failed to report the issue of the non-compliant brake rotors to North County staff when it was first discovered, and added that the California Public Utilities Commission had no other major findings during the recent inspection.

The German-manufactured SPRINTER fleet of 12 vehicles is scheduled to celebrate its fifth-year anniversary on Saturday.

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