The first electric rail service in San Diego dates back to 1891 when John D. Spreckels incorporated the San Diego Electric Railway.
The modern version was started in 1980 when San Diego Trolley Incorporated (SDTI) began planning a light rail service along the Main Line of the San Diego and Eastern Railway, which had been purchased by the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) now operating as MTS.
Service began in July 1981 and an extensions and lines added in 1986, 1989, 1995, 1996 and 2005. The current system has 3 lines (Green, Orange and Blue), 53.5 miles of track, 55 stations and carries an average of 119,800 riders each weekday (39.7 million annually, as of 2014). The trains used initially were the same Siemens-Duewag U2 vehicles used in Edmonton and Calgary. Newer trains are the Siemens SD100 and S70 models. They all run on a standard 4′-8 1/2″ gauge rail line at a maximum speed of 55 mph.
Our hotel was situated a few blocks away from the County Center/Little Italy station, so it made sense for us to use the system to get to the major sights. On our first day, we diligently purchased a 3 day pass (they call it a Compass Card, just like Vancouver) from the platform ticket machine. The cost for this was $12 plus $2 for the card. What we did not know until later is that we needed to validate it on the day of first use (fine print on the back of the card. So for that first day, we rode oblivious to the fact that we could have been fined by the fare inspectors for riding without a valid fare. The next day, we got it right, but we wasted our third day, when we rented a car to travel further afield.
We got back “on track” on the last 3 days of our trip and this time, validated our cards immediately. We had no sooner sat down when 3 fare inspectors passed through the cars checking fares. Phewwww.
We traveled the Green line as far as Mission San Diego Alcala (twice) and down to the Convention Centr stop. We also got on the Blue Line for a few stops, after we rode the bus down from Balboa Park. All in all, we saved a lot of steps.