In an effort to increase pressure on Amtrak to improve local service, the Orange County Transportation Commission ordered its staff Monday to investigate whether trains operated by the Washington-based rail agency have been dumping raw sewage along tracks in the county.
Amtrak officials immediately denied that their San Diegan trains, which stop in Orange County between Los Angeles and San Diego, dump untreated sewage anywhere along the route.
"It's all retained on board, airline-style," said Arthur L. Lloyd, Amtrak's San Francisco-based spokesman. "There is no dumping going on along that route. It's pumped out and disposed of properly at the end of the line."
OCTC member Dana W. Reed raised the sewage issue during the regular OCTC meeting Monday in Santa Ana. Reed referred to a Florida lawsuit filed recently against Amtrak over sewage dumping. Reed said he had no knowledge of such dumping in Orange County, but asked for an investigation and raised the possibility of legal action if evidence of improper disposal is found.
OCTC Executive Director Stanley T. Oftelie said he would have the commission staff report back in two weeks.
Reed said his request for an investigation was prompted by "our troubles with Amtrak" and his participation two weeks ago in talks with Amtrak officials in Washington.
Those talks were aimed at resolving complaints from OCTC and the Los Angeles-San Diego Rail Corridor Agency about declining ridership on the San Diegan trains, a drop in on-time performance, and the need for Amtrak to spend money on improvements.
Also, Reed has been part of efforts to add two trains to the route during the massive, disruptive Santa Ana Freeway widening project, already under way.
Amtrak officials have said they cannot afford improvements, even though OCTC and other agencies have agreed to pick up part of the cost.
A major factor in the decline of on-time performance, Amtrak officials said, is the route's aging signal system. Amtrak is involved in an extensive rail replacement program, but county officials contend that Amtrak only reluctantly agreed to the project.
Ridership on Amtrak's San Diegan is seasonal and ranges between 115,000 and 190,000 boardings per month.