SDG&E uncovers streetcar tracks from early 1900s

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By Pat Sherman

A San Diego Gas & Electric crew uncovered old streetcar tracks below the pavement on Fay Avenue, while working to replace an existing 2.5-mile segment of aging underground electric cable.

The project will upgrade the utility’s aging underground electrical system in La Jolla, which was installed in the 1970s.

The streetcar tracks belonged to San Diego’s old No. 16 line, which began providing service from Ocean Beach to La Jolla on July 1, 1924. The streetcar line was abandoned on Sept. 16, 1940 and replaced with bus service. An streetcar terminal at the corner of Fay Avenue and Prospect Street (now the building housing Barfly nightclub) was also demolished that year.

SDG&E’s lead archaeologist, Susan Hector, said the discovery was no surprise.

“Pretty much every time anybody does any roadwork in this area they come upon a piece of it,” Hector said. “It’s  like here’s another little piece.”

Hector said a specialist was dispatched to the worksite July 5 and was taking pictures, measuring it, and comparing it with what’s already known.

“Basically, when it’s exposed we document it and … try to avoid impacting it as much as possible, and then move on with the project,” she said.

Hector said it is possible that portions of the track could be removed if needed to complete the job. “We just have to take it on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

San Diego’s development services director, Kelly Broughton, said that when the city runs into old trolley or electric car tracks while conducting water or sewer projects, the first protocol is to avoid disturbing them.

“We have contacted various railroad museums and railroad companies to see if they wanted us to do anything particular with the trolley tracks,” Broughton said. “For the most part what we hear is either avoid them and, if we need to, cut through them, document the tracks, and then move on.”

SDG&E representatives estimate no disruption in residential service during the project, which should take four to eight months to complete. Crews and contractors will trench about 13,600 feet of La Jolla streets to install the new cable system, as well as nine underground vaults to facilitate maintenance. Minor equipment upgrades and landscape work will be performed at the Pearl Street substation.

Project Manager Richard Rodriguez said the life expectancy of electric cable lines is from 30 to 35 years.

“We’re finding the most critical areas of our transmission system,” he said. “La Jolla is one of the many around the central city of San Diego that has a direct burrier cable system — and this ranked right up there.”

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