Metrolink intends to utilize new train tracking technology that could potentially decrease the frequency with which the signal arms come down at the Del Obispo Street crossing—a stop nicknamed the “ghost train” in San Juan Capistrano because no train passes through.
The train agency aims to implement the change by December 2024, officials said this week. The ghost train is a source of frustration for residents and motorists because of its resulting traffic delays.
According to Luis Carrasquero, chief deputy operating officer for Metrolink, the ghost train activates when trains stop at the nearby downtown station. To address the issue, Carrasquero explained to the San Juan City Council on Tuesday, April 18, Metrolink has a plan that includes implementing new wireless components for the current train tracking system.
“The train is in constant communication with GPS satellites for track location, as it moves down the tracks. It’s in constant communication with the dispatch center for temporary track conditions,” Carrasquero said of the planned new system.
“Lastly, it’s in constant communication with wayside devices, so that’s how the train is able to know what signal indications or signal alignments are ahead of the train,” He continued.
The implemented changes are intended to activate only one gate activation per train movement. Testing of the new system is said to have been successful.
“As the train is approaching the (downtown) station, Del Obispo is activating because the crossing doesn’t know if the train is making a through move or station stop,” Carrasquero said. “Since the crossing has to default to the worst-case scenario, meaning a through move, it is activating and assuming it is going to go through.”
Trains will be able to leave the station more fluidly, rather than having to “creep out” when departing the station and wait for the signal arm to activate, he said.
Metrolink’s next steps will include procuring materials, hardware installation at crossings, software updates, and procurement of licenses, which it is working on with vendors.
“We received regulatory approval as late as September of last year,” Carrasquero said. “Our team moved forward with identifying the different crossings across our system that could benefit and, I will say, Del Obispo has ranked No. 1 on priority for this technology.”
The rough estimate for the Del Obispo crossing work is $400,000.
Councilmember John Taylor, who lives near the crossing in the Los Rios Historic District, said fixing the issue has been one of his promises to the community the three times he’s run for office.
“It’s just a delight,” Taylor said of the proposed fix. “I can’t even believe I’m hearing this. Thank you very much. We really appreciate it. That part of town, the traffic is pretty bad as is.”
Mayor Howard Hart said the presentation is “huge news” for residents because the ghost train “has been a fact of life in San Juan Capistrano” for a long time.
“To finally see an implementation plan with dates on it is truly remarkable,” Hart said. “We look forward to that day when we see that arm stay up. We appreciate the efforts all of you have made on our behalf.”