State bill would fund study to help relocate rail off Del Mar bluffs

A proposed state bill would allocate $5 million for a study to provide alternative alignments for the rail that runs along Del Mar’s coastline.

For years, local leaders have discussed possible plans for moving the rail into an inland tunnel and off Del Mar’s eroding coastal bluffs. North County Transit District and the San Diego Association of Governments have spent millions on bluff stabilization projects while they wait to enact a long-term solution. The two agencies have submitted eight joint applications for federal and state funding over the last few years, according to an NCTD staff report.

The bill, AB 2062, was introduced Feb. 4 by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas, and coauthored by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego. The money would come from the state’s general fund, and SANDAG would be responsible for conducting the study. It would include potential alignments, costs, benefits, impacts and public outreach.

“We need to evaluate and decide as a region what is our way forward with the rail corridor from Oceanside to the Mid-Coast Trolley,” Boerner Horvath said in a statement, noting the commuter and economic activity along the rail line. “Whether we trench the tracks, tunnel underground, move them inland or something else, we need the data to make solid decisions.”

She added that the study “will equip our decision-makers to select a feasible alternative that ensures safety, while making our rail line resilient in the face of sea-level rise.”

AB 2062 has been assigned to the Assembly’s Transportation Committee, chaired by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Fairfield.

The cost of completing an inland rail tunnel has been estimated at $3 billion.

“It’s a huge expense,” said Del Mar City Councilman Dwight Worden, adding that there’s also a compelling public safety reason to complete the project.

The inland tunnel could cut down on deaths along the rail. Worden said there are an “unacceptable number” of fatalities along the rail, which average about 12 per year. According to North County Transit District Records, there were approximately 60 total deaths along the San Diego County portion of the rail from 2015-19, including seven in Del Mar from 2015 through last November.

In 2014, former Del Mar Mayor and Councilman Lou Terrell was killed by an oncoming train as he tried to save his dog.

The 351-mile rail connects San Diego with San Luis Obispo. SANDAG is planning approximately $1 billion in improvements to the 60-mile section that runs through San Diego County over the next 20 years.