Construction begins on railroad barrier wall at San Clemente landslide

Overhead view of Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens with landslide below.
An aerial view of Casa Romantica in San Clemente on June 5, where a landslide beneath the historic building halted train service between San Diego and Orange counties.
(Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Passenger train service remains suspended between San Diego and Orange counties as stabilization project proceeds


Work crews began staging heavy equipment Monday for a wall to be built along the railroad tracks in San Clemente, where a landslide continues to prevent passenger train service between San Diego and Orange counties.

The wall is intended to protect the railroad from any additional rocks and debris that could fall as efforts get underway to stabilize the slope beneath the city’s Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens.

“We don’t have a precise timeline yet as to the completion of the barrier wall and resumption of passenger rail service,” said Scott Johnson, director of communications for Metrolink. “But we are working as quickly and safely as possible as the team determines access and next steps in a very constrained work site.”

Metrolink normally provides passenger train service to Oceanside, the southernmost point in six California counties served by the agency.

North County Transit District continues to provide Coaster commuter service between Oceanside and San Diego, and some Amtrak trains have a bus connection to take passengers around the closed section of track between the stations at Oceanside and Irvine.

The Metrolink Board of Directors approved a contract Friday with geotechnical firm Condon-Johnson & Associates Inc. to design and install the temporary wall just north of the San Clemente Pier. 

“We will have a better idea of the timeline this week and into next as the contractor comes on board,” Johnson said in an email.

The wall will be between 250 feet and 300 feet long and 12 feet to15 feet high, but that may be adjusted during the design and construction, he said. Unforeseen conditions such as the possible need for underground drilling could slow or delay progress.

The total cost of the Casa Romantica service interruption is estimated to be within $5.5 million and $6 million, Johnson said. The expense will be covered by a $3 million allocation from the California Transportation Commission, with the rest being paid by local Orange County Transportation Authority funding.

Transit authorities initially suspended traffic in late April because of the slide below the cultural center. Service resumed May 27 after grading and slope stabilization work, but another slide in the same spot again stopped passenger trains June 5.

The slope is still settling, but has shown no significant movement over the past week, said Jim Beil, executive director of capital programs, in a presentation Monday to the OCTA board of directors.

That’s a good sign, he said, but the danger remains that material could fall onto the tracks.

“The city is still working on their stabilization plan, which will be done in multiple phases over an extended period of time,” Beil said.

Casa Romantica is a 2.5-acre estate built by San Clemente’s founder in the 1920s. It is owned by the city and used for weddings, festivals and special events. It remains partially open, with no public access to the main salon and ocean terrace areas.

The geotechnical contractor Condon-Johnson & Associates Inc. hired Friday is the same contractor OCTA selected to complete an earlier unrelated emergency slope stabilization near the Cyprus Shore Homeowners Association, which included the installation of 220 ground anchors.

That work, about two miles south of Casa Romantica, required a six-month closure that cost more than $13.7 million and concluded just about two weeks before the new slide April 27.

Freight trains have continued to use the tracks, slowed to speeds of 10 mph to 15 mph, through most of the construction. The coastal route is the only rail link between San Diego and Los Angeles, and to other destinations across the United States.