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Bury train tracks where they are

As Del Mar considers the future of its rail corridor, I suggest that, rather than digging expensive new tunnels under or around Del Mar, we simply bury the tracks where they are.

Take a walk with me to the foot of Fourth Street (Del Mar Heights Road) and then north along the bluff above the train tracks. You will see that, on most of the passage through Del Mar, the tracks and the trains run well below the level of the bluff top where we are walking.

So why not just cover the tracks where they are? Build a concrete wall to the west of the tracks and a concrete roof above the tracks. Cover the new roof with dirt, grass and landscaping, thus substantially widening the bluff-top park. The new tunnel could have “windows” in the wall to allow train patrons to see the ocean.

Some lowering of the tracks may be involved near Seagrove Park. And a short tunnel would be needed to take trains under Coast Blvd. near the old Del Mar station.

This plan is much less expensive than a proposed tunnel under the length of Camino del Mar – and much less disruptive to local businesses. I lived in Berkeley when BART was being built and saw the high costs paid by the businesses on Shattuck Avenue. Many went out of business.

The railroad should like this plan because it would allow them to double-track through Del Mar – their long-standing dream. If the tracks are buried, it doesn’t matter if there are two rather than one. This plan also would solve the problem of surfers and beachgoers illegally crossing railroad right of way by providing expanded park space above the tracks.

Some will argue that the bluffs are too unstable and that the trains must be moved inland and undergrounded. But the tracks last failed in 1941. I believe the railroad has the know-how to stabilize two tracks on the existing bluff. Indeed, covering the tracks entirely would reduce erosion of the rail bed.

I think Del Mar got it right in 1910 when the tracks were removed from Stratford Court (once called Railroad Avenue) to their current location on the bluff. Thus, unlike Solana Beach, Cardiff, Encinitas, and Leucadia, the rail line does not slice through the Del Mar business district.

Ockham’s razor, aka the law of parsimony: Always consider the simplest solution first.

Gordon Clanton teaches sociology at San Diego State University. He welcomes comments at gclanton@mail.sdsu.edu

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