Latest effort to stabilize railroad tracks done in Del Mar

Contractors have completed the latest Del Mar bluff stabilization project, which began in May.
Contractors have completed the latest Del Mar bluff stabilization project, which began in May at the stormwater drain near Seventh Street.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Fourth of six phases completed in decades-long project


Planning and transportation officials announced last week they have finished their latest effort to safeguard the railroad tracks on the eroding coastal bluffs in Del Mar.

The work began in May and included the installation of additional concrete-and-steel support columns, the replacement of a drainage channel along the top of the bluffs, and improvements to storm drains that carry water to the beach.

“The completion of this work demonstrates significant progress in our multi-phased strategy to secure the Del Mar bluffs and ensure the continued reliability of this important rail corridor,” said Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, chair of the San Diego Association of Governments board, in a written news release.

“SANDAG is currently evaluating long-term alternatives to completely move the tracks off the bluffs to ensure the safe operation of the (San Diego to Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo) corridor, which serves nearly 8 million passengers annually, and is a major economic lifeline for San Diego County,” Blakespear said.

Since 2003, contractors employed by SANDAG and the North County Transit District have installed more than 230 concrete-and-steel columns, known as “soldier piles,” along the bluffs at Del Mar. The bluffs erode at an average rate of six inches per year, but most of the losses occur as sudden collapses that eat away several feet from the cliff’s edge at once.

Climate change and sea-level rise are expected to increase the rate of erosion.

Past stabilization efforts also included the installation of seawalls and retaining walls, along with drainage channels to carry rainwater and irrigation runoff away from the cliff’s face.

The California Transportation Commission on Dec. 2 awarded the San Diego region $106 million for future railroad projects, including $36.2 million for the next phase of work on the Del Mar bluffs. That construction is expected to begin in 2022 and will include more support columns, drainage structures and seawalls.

“This is a very important step toward realizing the dream of making transit competitive with the automobile and for curbing climate-change inducing emissions in our region,” Caltrans Interstate 5 Corridor Director Allan Kosup said of the grant award.

Railroad improvements funded by the grant money will lead to faster travel times, increased rail ridership and an improved alternative to driving on I-5, Kosup said.

— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune