OCTA to Study Railroad Relocation to Protect San Clemente Tracks

Written by Kyra Senese, Managing Editor
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Repairs have been ongoing on OCTA’s shore line despite heavy rains.

While the Orange County Transportation Authority's emergency work to stabilize railroad tracks in San Clemente nears completion, the agency and its partners say they are continuing work on long-term solutions to protect the coastal rail line.

Officials with OCTA said on Feb. 28 that the agency needs $7 million to investigate potential solutions, including realignment, to protect the seven miles of endangered coastal tracks from Dana Point to the border of San Diego and Orange counties, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported

OCTA staff presented the Board of Directors on Feb. 27 with a framework for working with local, state and federal partners to further study the causes of the coastal erosion, a release said. The plan also calls for funding to keep rail traffic moving safely long-term between San Diego and Orange counties, as well as to destinations further north.

The agency’s weekday passenger service between San Diego and Orange counties has been halted since late September, when new movement was discovered in a recurring 700-foot-wide landslide along San Clemente’s beach. Amtrak restored weekend service on Feb. 4, but weekday stabilization work remains ongoing.

“When we began the emergency stabilization effort, it was clear that we needed to address the immediate issues first and also to speed up the process of working with all stakeholders to find longer-term solutions,” said OCTA Chairman Gene Hernandez, also the Mayor of Yorba Linda. “I’m pleased to see this comprehensive effort moving forward.”

The California Senate Transportation Committee has also created a new subcommittee to address these concerns. Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas) will serve as the chair of the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Resiliency Subcommittee. Other senators from Orange County will also provide representation on the subcommittee, according to a release.

The subcommittee’s main objective will be to examine the service and infrastructure throughout the 351-mile rail route between San Diego and San Luis Obispo with an emphasis on maintaining its resilience.

“We appreciate the support we’ve already seen, especially from the state, and we look forward to continuing to work together to develop long-term solutions and to keep trains running safely,” Chairman Hernandez said. “This is a critical link in Southern California’s rail network. Addressing both the current emergency situation, and planning for our rail future, are top priorities for the OCTA Board of Directors.”

A staged strategy to look at additional short- to medium-term solutions is part of OCTA’s framework for identifying answers beyond the current emergency work, followed by a Phase II study that would look at longer-term options. The investigations would advance simultaneously if Phase II funding were to be obtained.

The estimated cost of the Phase I study is $2 million, and grant funding has already been identified. The research would determine the future costs for completing the necessary upgrades to maintain rail service along the 7 miles of south Orange County coast.

The second study is expected to cost $5 million. The study will more clearly define the costs and timeline associated with longer-term solutions, which are anticipated to require a multi-year effort costing billions of dollars and cooperation between the federal and state governments, a release said. 

The emergency work along 700 feet of rail line in south San Clemente continues. The track has stopped shifting since the first row of ground anchors was finished in late January, allowing weekend passenger rail operation to resume in a secure manner. The LOSSAN Rail Authority, which runs Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, resumed weekend passenger service on Feb. 4.

Additional information is available here regarding the planned studies.