NCTD Service Management

Service Management Overview

North County Transit District (NCTD) offers services that are a vital part of San Diego’s regional transportation network. NCTD moves more than 11 million passengers annually by providing public transportation for North San Diego County. The family of transit services includes:
• COASTER commuter rail service
• SPRINTER hybrid rail
• BREEZE fixed-route bus system
• FLEX specialized transportation service
• LIFT ADA paratransit

This wide network of services covers approximately 1,020 square miles from San Diego to Ramona to Camp Pendleton. We connect with MTS at various points of our route including Old Town Station, Santa Fe Depot, Escondido and Ramona. We also connect with other transportation agencies such as Amtrak, Metrolink and Riverside Transit. NCTD meets with these agencies a few months prior to each schedule change to discuss edits to the timetables. Once those schedules are decided upon, the planning staff at NCTD schedules bus connections to COASTER, as well as Amtrak and Metrolink where possible. We strive to ensure integrate the schedules in order to meet the needs of our customers and allow a seamless ride, even if the rider is using more than one of our services.

The LOSSAN rail corridor is the second busiest intercity rail corridor in the nation supporting commuter, intercity, and freight rail services. The 351-mile rail corridor stretches from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, connecting major metropolitan areas of Southern California and the Central Coast. Train operations on the line include Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner; the Southern California Regional Rail Authority’s Metrolink and the North County Transit District’s COASTER and SPRINTER passenger rail services; and Union Pacific and BNSF Railway freight rail services.

Each year, more than 2.8 million intercity passengers and 4.4 million commuter rail passengers (Metrolink, Amtrak and COASTER) travel the LOSSAN corridor. One in every nine Amtrak riders uses the corridor. The 60-mile San Diego segment of the LOSSAN corridor extends from the Orange County line to the Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego. The segment passes over six coastal lagoons, Camp Pendleton, and the cities of Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, and Del Mar before coming to its final destination in Downtown San Diego.

On-Time Performance

In public transportation, on-time performance (OTP) refers to the level of success of the service (such as a bus or train) compared to the published schedule. Delays can be due to road traffic and other slow-downs beyond the operator’s control. OTP is based on the time points for the route that are listed in the Rider’s Guide. For BREEZE, a bus can be up to 5 minutes and 59 seconds behind the
published schedule before it is considered late. For SPRINTER & COASTER, the train can be up to 5 minutes behind the published schedule before it’s considered late.

Behind the Scenes in the NCTD Dispatch Center

NCTD’s Operations Control Center (OCC) is the communications “hub” of NCTD’s modal operations. The OCC is staffed by both NCTD and contracted staff working side by side monitoring all bus and train traffic, radio communications, and strategically placed Closed Circuit TV Cameras throughout the service area. The OCC manages emergency events and critical incident response, and institutes service recovery measures as the situation warrants. In the event of a malfunctioning system, the OCC dispatches response personnel to repair the issue or item. The OCC also provides NCTD’s riders with up-to-date
real time alerts regarding service delays, cancellations, and alternate service through public address, customer message signs and social media outlets.

NCTD’s Dispatch Center controls all train and bus movement throughout the system. For reference, on a typical weekday, there are 22 COASTER trains, 24 Amtraks, 16 Metrolinks, 5 BNSF freight trains, 1 PacSun freight train, 120 BREEZE/FLEX buses, and 56 LIFT buses. On a typical weekend, there are 8 COASTER trains, 24 Amtraks, 12 Metrolinks, 4 BNSF freight trains, 120
BREEZE/FLEX buses, and 36 LIFT buses. With all of this movement on our system, it is truly remarkable how Dispatch keeps it all in motion with very little disruption. Most days are seamless and the printed schedules are adhered to throughout the day.

However, when delays occur on buses or railways, it can be a delicate balance of how we utilize our resources to get the schedule back on time and deliver our passengers where they need to go. During times when there are delays, we understand that sometimes our customers feel like they are in the  dark, with little information and a lot of time spent waiting for something to happen. This can be particularly challenging during rail delays due to the unique operating environment for those services.
The Dispatch Center is responsible for notifying all of the emergency response teams. Once on scene, those teams update the Dispatch Center with service recovery and investigation issues which NCTD can then pass on to its riders.

Dispatch must also manage a number of other functions during these incidents. These may include coordinating the transportation for a backup crew to provide relief to a rail engineer or conductor who may need to be relieved due to the impact of a traumatic incident. These duties also include managing the schedules of each and every train on the corridor, communicating service impacts to our trains and buses, identifying and dispatching relief busses, and working with the contractors to manage “hours of service” for each employee working on the corridor.

The Federal Railroad Administration regulates the number of hours a railroad employee may work before they are required to be done for the day by law. This is called “Hours of Service.” They are strictly enforced to ensure Safety Sensitive Employees are well rested when they are working on our system. But when delays occur, the crews on those trains may reach their allowable hours of service and have to be removed. This means deploying a backup crew and transporting them to the incident train.

While we hope you recognize that many of these incidents are beyond our control, how we respond to them is not. It is our goal to do everything within our power to get the system re-opened as safely and quickly as possible as well as provide our customers timely and accurate information allowing them to make alternate travel arrangements, as needed. NCTD will do its best to provide communication through signage at stations, on-board announcements, on this website, and on social media.

Service Disruptions

A service disruption is anything that interrupts normally scheduled train or bus service in the North County Transit District system. Disruptions can include a mechanical issue, vehicle incursion on the tracks, unforeseen detours, road construction, vehicle accidents, law enforcement activity, or incidents resulting in serious personal injury. In addition, bus delays could occur due to construction re-routes, road closures, accidents, and other traffic impeding delays.

Rail: Trespasser Incident/Accident

Delay minimum: 1 hr. 30 min

The launch of an investigation signifies that a trespasser incident has resulted in a serious and possibly tragic outcome which can impact the rail service dramatically. An investigation is initiated when a person is struck by a train while on NCTD property.

Depending on the incident, Police, Fire, EMS, Coroner and railroad personnel could all be required to respond to the scene and response time can be impacted by time of day. For example, during the peak hour commute periods, emergency response vehicles may be caught in rush hour traffic. Often relief crews must travel by vehicle to take over the train’s operations, which can account for some of the delays to restoring service. The investigation is led by the police department and supported by the railroad personnel. Even though these incidents occur on NCTD property, it is necessary that all of these agencies assist us at the scene as they have essential roles. Unfortunately, coordinating this response and completing an investigation can cause significant delays, particularly for the train involved in the incident because it is treated as a crime scene until the coroner and police have completed their investigation.

NCTD staff will put a contingency plan in place and a number of service recovery plans may be initiated and communicated to customers. These may include:

Re-directing train traffic away from or around the location of the incident

Coordinating with Amtrak to make additional stops to accommodate stranded passengers

Establishing bus bridges between stations

Single-tracking in the incident area

Bus Bridges

A “bus bridge” is a term used when there’s an incident on the rails that has stopped train traffic and, rather than your train taking you to the stops along the route, a bus will now pick you up and take you to the train stations.  Bus bridges are deployed as soon as an incident occurs.  However, even though the bus equipment is always on standby, our drivers may not be.  We sometimes have to call in drivers that are off-duty or on other routes to operate the bus bridge.  The drivers then have to inspect the bus they’re driving and drive to the affected stations (sometimes through traffic) to begin the bridge.  This can take a significant amount of time.

Knowing this, NCTD mobilizes Bus Supervisors to the identified pick up locations as well as the final drop off and any intermediate drop-off locations in order to answer passenger questions, provide direction and ensure buses are loaded properly. NCTD always tries to get the trains back to regular rail activity since that is usually the quickest way to get our customers to their destinations.

Bus: Incident Investigations

Delay minimum: 1 hr. 30 min

Similar to a rail incident investigation, the launch of an investigation involving a bus signifies that an incident has resulted in a serious outcome.

Depending on the nature of the incident, Police, Fire, EMS, Coroner and bus personnel could all be required to respond to the scene and response time can be impacted by time of day. For example, during the peak hour commute periods, emergency response vehicles may be caught in rush hour traffic. The investigation is led by the police department and supported by the bus personnel. Unfortunately, coordinating this response and completing an investigation can cause significant delays while we wait for the police and other important parties to complete their investigation.

NCTD staff will put a contingency plan in place and a number of service recovery plans may be initiated and communicated to customers. These may involve deploying a standby bus for the passengers on the incident vehicle or having passengers board the next scheduled bus on that route.

Train/Bus Delays

Delay estimates are in reference to the posted schedule.  For example, if social media announces that your train or bus that was supposed to arrive at 2:00 p.m. is 15 minutes late, that means it’s 15 minutes behind the scheduled time and should arrive at approximately 2:15 p.m.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, delays are only estimates and not guarantees.  The delay could be longer or shorter depending if the train or bus makes up time or encounters another issue.

Rail & Bus: On-Board Police Activity, Medical Emergency, and Fire

Delay minimum: 15 minutes

The range of incidents that can happen on-board a vehicle or train varies greatly and they are handled differently by first responders depending on the nature of the specific incident. Police activity could range from resolving a fare dispute with a passenger to removing passengers from the train and property for disorderly conduct. When the fire or police department request that a train or bus be held in a certain area, passengers will be kept informed and updated regularly through on-board announcements and social media updates, as necessary. Based on the information provided by the authorities, NCTD will implement a contingency plan if necessary but most of these incidents have a relatively brief impact to service, generally resulting in delays of 15 minutes or less.

In cases where a bus has been delayed by 15 minutes or less, the next scheduled bus will pick up passengers on that route.  If the incident delays the route by more than 15 minutes, a standby bus will be deployed.

Evacuations

NCTD’s standard practice is to not evacuate people onto the railroad right-of-way unless it’s a life-threatening situation.  Allowing people off the train and into the right-of-way is almost always more dangerous than staying on the train.  Pedestrians can interfere with a police investigation, get in the way of oncoming trains, and incur trips and falls on the uneven surfaces.  If you’re on a stopped train, please listen to, and comply with, the train conductor’s instructions so that you may know what is happening and what to do next.

Rail: Mechanical Issues

Delay minimum: 15 minutes

NCTD and its rail contractor Bombardier employ preventative maintenance programs to avoid mechanical failures and delays. However, failures do occur. The equipment used to operate the system is aging, and NCTD is in the process of procuring new locomotives.

Mechanical failure is sporadic in nature as far as time and location of occurrence and requires different responses. All minor mechanical issues, during service, are reported to the Dispatcher to be corrected after the train completes its operations. When more serious mechanical failures occur, trains make every effort to stop at a station to troubleshoot and rectify the issue. On-board announcements are made to notify customers of the situation as frequently as possible.

When a train experiences mechanical issues and is unable to move under its own power, NCTD dispatchers are notified.  While the crew continues to troubleshoot, NCTD will implement a contingency plan. Conditions during any of these incidents are often very dynamic and can change without notice. Passengers should continue to listen to on-board announcements and check social media for any changes to train status. A contingency plan will entail a number of service recovery options that include sending a rescue engine, sending an additional train set and crew, and transferring customers to other trains or bus bridges.

Moving an Incident Train

The train involved in the incident is not permitted to move until released by law enforcement and railroad officials. In most cases the train engineer will request to be relieved by another engineer due to excessive stress resulting from the incident. This also takes time. In some cases the location of the incident which is normally behind the train is still under investigation and personnel may still be on the tracks performing the investigation.

Bus: Mechanical Issues

Delay minimum: 15 minutes

NCTD and its bus contractor MV Transportation employ preventative maintenance programs to avoid mechanical failures and delays. However, as with any other vehicle, maintenance failures can and will occur.

Mechanical failure is sporadic in nature as far as time and location of occurrence and requires different responses. All minor mechanical issues, during service, are reported to the Dispatcher to be corrected after the bus completes its service. When more serious mechanical failures occur, buses make every effort to stop at a station to troubleshoot and rectify the issue. On-board announcements are made to notify customers of the situation as frequently as possible.

When a bus experiences mechanical issues and is unable to move under its own power, NCTD Dispatch is notified and maintenance crews are sent to troubleshoot the issue.  In cases where a bus has been delayed by 15 minutes or less, the next scheduled bus will pick up passengers on that route.  If the incident delays the route by more than 15 minutes, a standby bus will be deployed.

To mitigate possible delays, NCTD regularly deploys two stand-by buses in the early morning and afternoon.  Stand-by buses are typically staged at the Oceanside Transit Center and the Escondido Transit Center.  Stand-by buses are intended for use when BREEZE encounters a significant service delay.  Dispatch will determine when and where the stand-bys will be placed into service.  A stand-by bus may operate on an entire route or just a portion depending on when the regularly assigned bus can resume service.

Bus Mechanical Failures

Bus mechanical failures can occur anywhere along the route and even at transit centers. Mechanical failures will be reported immediately to the Dispatcher and all passengers inside the bus as well as those waiting outside at a transit center will be notified by the operator and through social media. If the bus is in a safe location, passengers are allowed to exit. If the bus is in an unsafe location for pedestrians or for unloading, they will be asked to remain on-board until as such time they can exit safely. The dispatcher will ask the operator to perform basic troubleshooting steps in an effort to resolve the mechanical issue. If these steps fail, a mechanic will be sent to the location along with a replacement bus as soon as equipment is available.

Rail: Signal or Crossing Issues

Delay minimum: 15 minutes

Signal malfunctions can occur anywhere along the COASTER or SPRINTER tracks.  A signal malfunction is any occurrence which prevents a dispatcher in the control center from sending a notice to proceed to the signals along the right of way which govern train movement. When this happens, the dispatcher is required by operating rules to issue instructions to trains to proceed pass the signal Restricted Speed and no greater than 20 mph until the next signal is reached. If the train is at a junction, this may include instructions for the train conductor to physically line a switch or switches by hand before the train can proceed over the switch.  This causes speed restrictions and cascading delays as all trains must operate this way until a maintainer can be dispatched to the location to repair the issue.

When a train is slowed due to signal issues, NCTD Dispatchers are notified. Until the speed restrictions can be lifted, NCTD will implement a communications plan to notify riders of the delays.

Please continue to listen to on-board announcements and check social media for any changes to train status. When a crossing issue is reported to the Dispatcher, the Dispatcher must notify trains and the crossing must be protected.  Trains must prepare to stop at the crossing to determine if the signals are providing warning to approaching traffic.  If the crossing signals are working, the train may proceed at 15 MPH until the entire crossing is cleared.  If the crossing signals are not working, a crew member must deboard the train and stop vehicular traffic in order for the train to pass.

Incident Recovery Plans May Change

Incident recovery plans are always subject to change.  Depending on the nature of the incident, the response plan may change to better serve the public.  Customers should check regularly for updates on social media and listen for on-board announcements to find out the latest information.

Ultimately, we want to provide the safest, most seamless trip possible. When there are delays, know that there are many people working behind the scenes to get you home to your family, to work, or wherever you need to go as quickly as we can.

We Use Cookies

We use cookies to collect and analyze information regarding our site performance and usage to enhance and optimize content. By clicking “I Accept” or continuing to use this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

X