Weekday passenger service between San Diego and Orange counties expected to resume in April

Stabilization efforts underway in November near the Cyprus Shore
Stabilization efforts underway in November near the Cyprus Shore community at San Clemente.
(Charlie Neuman/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Costs climb for San Clemente railroad stabilization work as difficulties mount at troubled landslide location


Costs continue to mount for the ongoing effort to stabilize a slow-moving landslide that has suspended passenger train service between San Diego and Orange counties since September.

The new estimate is $13.7 million, up from the previous $12 million, Orange County Transportation Authority Executive Director of Capital Programs Jim Beil said Monday in an update presented to the agency’s board of directors.

The total so far does not include the money being negotiated to pay nearby owners for the additional right-of-way needed to install the stabilization devices along the tracks. Also not included are the costs of fees and staff time to obtain a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission, and the expense of any mitigation that the commission could require.

The commission typically requires permit applicants to do something such as restore eroded beach sand or improve access to public beaches to compensate for the environmental or recreational losses resulting from construction.

Passenger service was suspended Sept. 30 at the San Clemente site because of new movement in the beach-side tracks caused by the recurring landslide. Amtrak resumed weekend service Feb. 4 after instruments showed the initial work had stopped the slide. Weekday passenger service is now expected to resume sometime in April, Beil said.

In recent weeks, “slope sloughing” was detected in the hillside above the tracks, Biel said. To stabilize that area, work crews installed “soil nails,” which are a shorter version of the 220 “ground anchors” being drilled into the ground to stabilize the landslide.

Limited access to the work area has compounded the difficulty of the project, he said.

Soil from the drilling area had to be loaded onto rail cars and carried to an off-site storage area near Basilone Road and the San Onofre State Beach to create enough room for a safe workplace, Beil said. Once all the ground anchors are in place, the soil will be returned and used to cover them.

North County Transit District’s Coaster commuter service between Oceanside and San Diego has not been affected by the stabilization project. Metrolink trains, which normally carry passengers as far south as Oceanside, only go as far south as the San Clemente Pier Station because of the work underway.

Freight service, which operates mostly at night, has continued throughout the project, though the trains travel slowly and less frequently across the work site.

OCTA staffers are reviewing short-term and long-term options for safeguarding the tracks at San Clemente, Chief Executive Officer Darrell E. Johnson told the board.

The long-term options could include strategies for moving the railroad inland from the coast, he said. So far, the district has not identified any inland route for the possible relocation.

The 140-year-old coastal rail line is the only viable route for passenger and freight trains between San Diego and the rest of the United States. The 350-mile LOSSAN corridor between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo is one of the nation’s busiest rail routes.