Transit district delays Del Mar, Encinitas bluff fence project

A Coaster train on the bluffs in Del Mar, where the transit district plans to install a fence.
A Coaster train on the bluffs in Del Mar, where the transit district plans to install a fence to keep trespassers off the tracks.

Negotiations underway with Coastal Commission, Oceanside installation to move forward this year


North County Transit District officials said last week they will delay until 2021 the installation of a controversial fence planned to keep trespassers off the bluff-top railroad tracks in Del Mar.

Last month, the district’s chief of safety, Sean Loufbourrow, sent the Del Mar city manager a letter that said the installation would be finished by the end of this year. Del Mar residents have long opposed any barrier, saying it would ruin their ocean views and impede their access to the bluff and the beach below.

A risk report released by the district outlines the need and costs to install a six-foot-high, chain-link fence along the railroad right-of-way in parts of Oceanside, Encinitas and Del Mar where people most frequently cross the tracks illegally and are sometimes hit by trains.

NCTD filed a petition in August with the federal Surface Transportation Board asking the agency to dismiss the city of Del Mar and the California Coastal Commission from any oversight of the transit district’s ongoing construction work to stabilize the eroding coastal bluffs, including construction of the fence.

In a special meeting Thursday, Nov. 5, the transit district’s board agreed to request that the Surface Transportation Board stay proceedings on the petition for 120 days “to facilitate discussions” between the district, Del Mar and the Coastal Commission.

Construction of the fence in Oceanside, where there have been no objections to the project, will proceed as scheduled this year, said NCTD CEO Matt Tucker at a meeting of the board’s executive committee earlier Thursday, Nov. 5. The Oceanside section of the track that will get the fence is about eight-tenths of a mile long, between Loma Alta Creek and the Buena Vista Lagoon. Both the Encinitas and Del Mar sections have been delayed to next year.

Del Mar has until Nov. 30 to notify the district whether the city wants to contribute financing for the increased cost of more decorative fencing instead of the chain-link style, Tucker said. Also, the district has offered to work with the city on using part of the railroad right-of-way as a public trail.

Board members noted that if Del Mar wants to use any of the right-of-way for a public trail, the city must be willing to assume the risk involved for residents and guests who use the trail.

A consultant’s report prepared for the district over the summer found that the three cities, Del Mar, Encinitas and Oceanside, together recorded a total of 33 pedestrian “strikes” between 2015 and 2019. The term strike does not distinguish between suicides, accidental deaths or injuries, though most of the strikes are suicides. Also some strikes, usually those with only minor injuries, go unreported, as do many near misses.

San Diego County was one of the top 10 locations nationwide with 44 railroad trespasser casualties, excluding suicides, from November 2013 to October 2017, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The highest was Los Angeles County with 110.

In addition to the human toll on victims and train crews, pedestrian strikes also delay passenger and freight trains at significant costs in time and money.

Adding to the need for rail security are plans to increase the number and frequency of trains on the coastal corridor. At the beginning of this year the corridor had about 60 trains daily, and by 2030 that number could increase to 100 trains daily.

Also, with new locomotives and improvements to tracks, trains will be faster and quieter, making it more difficult for trespassers to get out of the way.

Gates, signs, cameras on poles, motion-sensor lights, and public address speakers also will be installed.

Total construction costs for the fence — including engineering, design and permits — are estimated at just under $1 million for the Oceanside segment, $2.8 million for the Encinitas segment, and $6 million for the 1.4-mile Del Mar segment, according to the consultant’s report.

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