ON JULY 15 the board of California’s North County Transit District voted to award the main construction contract for the Sprinter diesel light rail line between Oceanside and Escondido, but at the same time increased the project’s budget by $24m and formally delayed the launch of the half-hourly service by two years.

Low bidder West Coast Rail, a joint venture of FCI Constructors and Fluor Enterprises, has been selected for a $187·2m contract to upgrade the right-of-way and level crossings, build 15 stations, and other infrastructure work along the existing 35·4 km freight line. During June NCTD had confirmed a $50m order for 12 Desiro two-car DMUs from Siemens Transportation Systems, based on the German VT642; each will carry 136 seated and 90 standing passengers. Still to be awarded are contracts for the 2·7 km San Marcos Loop and a maintenance depot at Escondido, estimated to cost $18m and $9·7m respectively.

The board approved a $114m bond issue in place of an $80m state grant which has been delayed by California’s financial crisis, raising the total cost of the project to $375·5m. The opening date has been put back to December 31 2007, following repeated set-backs in awarding contracts for rolling stock and construction.