State allocates $37 million for more work to secure tracks on Del Mar bluffs

A Coaster train travels along the collapsing bluffs in Del Mar.
A Surfliner train by Amtrak travels along the collapsing bluffs in Del Mar.

More concrete columns, retaining walls and drainage improvements will be installed starting in November


The California Transportation Commission has allocated more than $37 million to the San Diego Association of Governments for the next phase of work to stabilize the railroad tracks on the eroding coastal bluffs in Del Mar.

“The focus is on stabilizing the railroad in the interim and (eventually) moving the trains off the bluff,” Allie DeVaux, a senior engineer and project manager for the agency, said Tuesday, March 28.

SANDAG will advertise for bids beginning in April and award a contract for the Phase 5 construction in the fall, Vaux said. On-site work should begin in November or December and will take about three years to complete.

Train service should not be interrupted by construction except for the regular weekend shutdowns scheduled in advance and publicized several times a year for maintenance and other work, DeVaux said.

Del Mar bluff stabilization efforts began more than 20 years ago with the installation of concrete-and-steel columns, retaining walls, drainage outlets and other erosion-control measures. Trains travel on a narrow right-of-way along a cliff more than 60 feet above the beach in the small seaside community.

The expected cost of Phase 5 has risen to $78 million and SANDAG has secured all the money, DeVaux said. In addition to the Transportation Commission funding, the agency has obtained $13 million from the Federal Transit Administration, $11.75 million from the Federal Railroad Administration, and money from the California Natural Resources Agency and the North County Transit District.

A sixth and final phase of bluff stabilization is planned and estimated to cost about $20 million, but when and how much work will need to be done depends on many factors, DeVaux said.

“Relocation ... is a really big priority, and making that happen as quickly as possible,” she said.

SANDAG’s long-term plan is to move the 1.7-mile segment of tracks off the bluffs in Del Mar.

Last year the agency secured a $300 million state grant to study possible routes for an inland tunnel to be bored beneath the city. That solution, which would improve the speed and safety of the route, is expected to cost more than $4 billion. The earliest it could be completed is 2035.

The coastal route is the only railroad link between San Diego and Los Angeles, with connections to the rest of the United States. The San Diego segment carries Coaster commuter trains, Amtrak passenger trains and BNSF freight. It’s also part of the Defense Department’s Strategic Corridor Network, serving Camp Pendleton and military bases throughout San Diego.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the so-called LOSSAN coastal corridor between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo served a combined 7.6 million passengers and $1 billion in goods and services, with an average of 44 daily passenger trains and six freight trains, according to SANDAG.

The number of trains was reduced during the pandemic, when travel was restricted and many people worked from home. But ridership is increasing again, and the corridor is forecast to have 78 daily passenger trains and 22 freight trains by 2030.

“A safe, reliable, and efficient Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor is vital to moving goods, services and people to and from San Diego and throughout the state,” said Caltrans District 11 Director Gustavo Dallarda in a news release Friday, March 24.

“Stabilizing the Del Mar bluffs ensures the long-term viability of the corridor and protects the public and residents for decades to come,” he said.

The bluffs recede at an average rate of six inches per year, but the erosion is episodic, and large pieces can fall away at any time.

The California Transportation Commission grants awarded last week also included money for improvements to state Route 67 in Lakeside and Eucalyptus Hills, Interstate 805 in Chula Vista, Santa Fe Drive in Encinitas, and the bicycle network in National City.

“California and our federal partners are taking action now to create a safer, more resilient, and more equitable transportation future for all Californians,” said Caltrans Director Tony Tavares in a news release. “These visionary infrastructure investments are giving Caltrans the tools it needs to rebuild California.”