While the Orange County Transportation Authority is nearing completion on emergency work to stabilize railroad tracks in San Clemente, the agency and its partners continue to push forward on finding long-term solutions to protect the vital coastal rail line.

OCTA staff presented the Board of Directors with a framework for working with local, state and federal partners to further study and understand the issues behind the coastal erosion. The plan also calls for seeking necessary funding for lasting solutions to keep rail traffic safely moving between San Diego and Orange counties, and destinations further north.

“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.”

In addition to OCTA’s ongoing work, a new subcommittee of the California Senate Transportation Committee has been established focused on these issues. Called the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Resiliency Subcommittee, the Committee is to be chaired by Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas), and will include representation from other Orange County Senators: Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Huntington Beach), Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) and Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). The focus of the subcommittee will be to study the infrastructure and service along the entire 351-mile rail line between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, with a focus on ensuring its resiliency.

“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.”

Framework for Studies

OCTA’s framework for finding solutions beyond the current emergency work include a phased approach to examine additional short- to medium-term solutions, then a Phase II study that would look at longer-term solutions. If Phase II funding is secured, the studies would move forward concurrently.

The goals of the Phase I study include:

  • Developing options to protect coastal rail infrastructure at various sea levels
  • Gaining a more detailed understanding of climate effects on the rail line
  • Identifying potential solutions for beach erosion
  • Consulting with key stakeholders and agencies along the way.

The Phase I study is expected to cost approximately $2 million, with grant funding already identified. Future costs for making the necessary improvements to ensure ongoing rail operations along the 7 miles of south Orange County coast would be identified through the study.

The goals of the Phase II study include:

  • Partnering with LOSSAN, state and federal agencies
  • Developing options for protecting, or potentially moving, the rail line
  • Creating an action plan
  • Consulting and engaging residents and key stakeholders throughout the process.

The cost of the second study is estimated at $5 million. The study will more clearly identify costs and schedule associated with more long-term solutions, expected to be a multi-year effort requiring billions of dollars, making state and federal partnerships even more vital.

Emergency Work Continues

The emergency work along 700 feet of rail line in south San Clemente continues. Following heavy rains over the weekend that delayed work, crews resumed weekday work on Monday morning to install ground anchors and tie-backs to secure the hillside next to the tracks.

Since the first row of ground anchors was completed in late January, the track has stopped shifting, which allowed weekend passenger rail service to safely resume. On Feb. 4, the LOSSAN Rail Authority, which operates Amtrak’s popular Pacific Surfliner, restarted weekend passenger service.

OCTA continues to work with its contractor on weekdays to install a second row of ground anchors and tie-backs to further secure the hillside next to the track. That work is scheduled to continue through March.

Metrolink continues to operate weekend passenger rail service only as far south as the San Clemente Pier Station.

Metrolink and Amtrak passengers are asked to keep checking pacificsurfliner.com/alerts and metrolinktrains.com for updates on rail service and schedules.