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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / San Diego-L.A. Surfliner schedule beefed up to meet surging demand

San Diego-L.A. Surfliner schedule beefed up to meet surging demand

By Bob Johnston | June 24, 2021

Return of 28 leased cars to Amtrak limits trips north of Los Angeles

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Blue and silver locomotive and passenger train at platform in front of skyscrapers
Blue and silver locomotive and passenger train at platform in front of skyscrapers
Passengers stream onto the Downtown San Diego Santa Fe Station platform on June 12, 2021, to board Pacific Surfliner 1767 for Los Angeles. As of Monday, there will be nine daily round trips between San Diego and LA, but but only three, plus Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, will serve Goleta, near Santa Barbara, or San Luis Obispo. (Bob Johnston)

LOS ANGELES — Beginning Monday, June 28, the agency overseeing Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliners will add three daily Pacific Surfliner round trips between Los Angeles and San Diego, Calif., to the six that have been running since frequencies were last increased April 30.

However, only three trains in each direction, plus Amtrak’s Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight, will still continue north of Los Angeles Union Station to serve the Santa Barbara area or San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Travel has been picking up sharply during the last month as California COVID-19 vaccination rates have climbed and Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed health restrictions to officially “reopen” the state on June 15. Except for business class, Surfliners are normally unreserved, but the LOSSAN [Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo] Corridor Agency had already announced coach reservations are required on some dates. These include the July 4th and Labor Day weekends, as well as the beginning of the Del Mar racing season July 16-19 [see “Digest: Pacific Surfliner to require reservations …,” Trains News Wire, May 26, 2021]. Some trains have been operating with near-standee conditions and business class has often been sold out.

Trains at station with many people on platform
Travelers line up on Los Angeles Union Station to board sold-out San Diego-bound Pacific Surfliner No. 774 as it arrives from San Luis Obispo on June 11, 2021. (Bob Johnston)

The new round trips include earlier and later departures from both cities, notably southbound train No. 562 from Los Angeles at 6:05 a.m. and train No. 595 from San Diego, an 8:57 p.m. departure. Others fill in gaps between trains on the current schedule which can be as long as four or five hours.

“Because we are operating with limited equipment,” LOSSAN spokeswoman Emilia Doerr tells Trains News Wire, “we are adding back service along the corridor in ways that maximize operational efficiency and that serve areas of the corridor with higher travel demand.”

Fewer trainsets are available now than prior to March 2020, when the schedule supported up to 13 Los Angeles-San Diego and five Los Angeles-Goleta/San Luis Obispo round trips. Doerr says this is because “28 cars on lease to California for Pacific Surfliner service were returned to Amtrak to achieve cost savings.”

She adds, “We are currently working with the state and our partners to find solutions to this equipment challenge … following guidance from the state to implement a phased restoration of the service [by] slowly adding back trips with each schedule change after evaluating travel demand and ridership along the corridor.” The plan, she says, “is to get the Pacific Surfliner schedule back to 100% by late 2022 or 2023.”

The LOSSAN and Amtrak website had a link to a downloadable and printable San Diego-San Luis Obispo timetable effective April 30, 2021, though it omitted the Coast Starlight. Rather than produce one showing the new travel options at a glance effective June 28, Doerr says, “We are encouraging riders to use Amtrak’s new digital resource for schedules. Visit www.amtrak.com/timetables to build a personalized timetable.  It shows departure times between two stations as well as all intermediate stops. It can also be downloaded and printed.”

A list of arrival and departures can be printed, but this rudimentary “do it yourself” timetable doesn’t show weekend variations or times at intermediate stops unless an individual train is selected.

As an example, one of the new weekday trains to San Diego departs Los Angeles as No. 572 at 10:54 a.m., but on weekends and holidays becomes No. 1572 leaving at 11:20 a.m. Unless a weekend day is initially selected in the date range, No. 1572 isn’t shown. If a Saturday or Sunday is selected, weekday No. 572 doesn’t appear.

4 thoughts on “San Diego-L.A. Surfliner schedule beefed up to meet surging demand

  1. So the plan to “achieve cost savings” was a success, and only a year or two to go to get back to 100% with our “equipment challenge,” right? Got it.

  2. All these states that a operate service per the PRIIA 209 had better wake up to the reality that relying 100% on Amtrak to fulfill equipment and crew needs is a losing proposition. These states need to acquire their own locomotives and cars, hire their own crews, form their own rail operating authorities and where necessary make their own agreements with host freight railroads. And in certain markets/routes there needs to be bi or multi-state compacts such IL/MO/MI and MA/CT/NY.

  3. It is estimated that the airlines are approaching pre-pandemic leisure boardings, though business travel remains in the dumps. Based on what I saw today, I have to wonder if that estimate is low. I flew home today. At the boarding airport, the lines were almost out the door. Never saw anything like it at that airport. It was mobbed. It was so crazy I had to ask other people which queue went where.

    Prior to the TSA checkpoint, it was so out of control there was no way to enforce the mask requirement. I estimated mask compliance outside of TSA at only about 85%. Inside of TSA many people only pretended to wear masks, with the nose not covered. Only at boarding were mask rules fully complied with.

    Hopefully Amtrak is coming back at the rate of air transport. I’ve not seen any figures.

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