‘The Rail Corridor Has Never Been In More Jeopardy’

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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Amtrak Pacific Surfliner along the coast of southern California

RT&S has filed several reports over the past year about the very challenging situation with erosion, rock and mud slides on the southern California coastal rail corridor. Railroads, state and local agencies and others have been dealing with this for months, and it seems when remedial action is completed in one area, another area of trouble crops up.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported that a subcommittee of the state Senate met this week to discuss the instability of the LOSSAN corridor, which is a 351-mile line that serves as the only rail link between San Diego, Los Angeles, and the U.S. LOSSAN is an agency that consists of the planning and regional transportation agencies that looks after the rail line that goes south from San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Seven locations within four coastal California counties are facing sliding hillsides, unstable cliffs and eroding beaches that pose a threat to rail lines that provide critical freight, passenger, and military service to the region.

Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas) who chairs the Senate Transportation Subcommittee on LOSSAN Rail Corridor Efficiency said “the rail corridor has never been in more jeopardy. In the southern portion, the train is not running, or running very infrequently. We have an urgent, urgent problem.”

The LOSSAN corridor is peppered with construction crews trying to shore up problem areas along the route. Service between certain locations has been suspended, the area “repaired,” with service resuming only to be shut down again because of another problem down the line.

The Union-Tribune reports that while the coastal railroad routes were built in the late 1800s, natural beach erosion has occurred ever since, but that global warming seems to have accelerated the process, reaching the critical state of the route faced now.

The region’s passenger ridership has suffered a double-whammy. COVID-19 severely reduced ridership on the corridor trains, and, like all passenger agencies, ridership has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Agency officials say that ridership has reached 75% of pre-COVID levels. However, with all of the instability along the tracks in the corridor, the agency said the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner service between has dropped to around 45% of pre-pandemic levels, as Amtrak is required to provide bus service between Irvine and Oceanside to get around a work site.

LOSSAN Managing Director Jason Jewell said “Even with the bus bridge in place, we are seeing a decrease in ridership. Some customers don’t like the idea of getting on a train, to a bus, to a train.”

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