Federal Officials Tour Coastal Erosion in San Clemente, Del Mar

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

Another top federal official visited Southern California on April 13 to see two places where the vital coastal railroad is threatened by erosion.

Amit Bose, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, joined Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, and several local officials for a train ride over the perilous Del Mar bluffs.

Levin, Bose, and others, including a University of California, Irvine professor, then held press conferences in Solana Beach and San Clemente to raise awareness about the need to protect the tracks and relocate them inland, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune

In October of 2022, Levin hosted U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on a similar trip. Following that, President Biden made a get-out-the-vote visit to the region in November, during which Levin said he stressed the importance of protecting the railroad to the president.

“We know this is only going to get more challenging as climate change continues,” Levin said. “Rising sea levels with stronger storm surges will continue to pound our coastline.”

On Sept. 30, 2022, a slow-moving landslide in San Clemente halted all passenger traffic between San Diego and Orange counties. Amtrak weekend service resumed in February. After nearly six months of work to stabilize the slope, daily Amtrak and Metrolink service is resuming this week, the Tribune reported. 

Brett Sanders, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said it has been estimated that this year’s storms have left more than $5 billion in losses across California, and that most of that is concentrated along the coast. “Coastal change can be dramatic, dangerous and costly,” Sanders said. 

Several cliff failures have occurred in recent years at Del Mar, where the tracks follow a narrow right-of-way as high as 60 feet above the beach. For more than 20 years, a series of projects to install vertical columns, seawalls, drainage structures, and other devices have been underway.

“It’s just a matter of time, I think we all know, before these tracks will be over the cliff’s edge,” Levin said. “This vital transportation link continues to be a risk.”

Last year, state officials awarded the San Diego Association of Governments a $300 million grant for preliminary work needed to move the 1.7 miles of train tracks off the Del Mar bluffs, possibly to an inland tunnel beneath the small city. Construction could be completed by 2035 at a cost of $4 billion or more, according to SANDAG.

He plans to submit a $4 million federal community project funding request in the coming days to support the Orange County Transportation Authority’s study of the potential relocation of 11 miles of track, including the San Clemente segment near the San Diego County border.

In addition, he has worked to secure local grants for sand replenishment in San Clemente, Encinitas, and Solana Beach, the Tribune reported. President Biden’s $66 billion bipartisan infrastructure spending plan includes funding for rail systems across the country, Bose said. 

“For the first time, the FRA has robust funding to expand rail and create jobs,” Bose said. “I encourage you all to seek that funding.”

State Sen. Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas, Del Mar Mayor Tracy Martinez, Solana Beach Councilmember and North County Transit District board Chair Jewel Edson, and Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, also participated in the press conference.