Falling debris in San Clemente halts train service again from San Diego to Orange County
An aerial view of Casa Romantica Cultural Center in San Clemente, CA on Monday, June 5, 2023. A landslide beneath the historic center in San Clemente halted train service from San Diego to Orange County. (Adriana Heldiz / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Problems continue with slope below Casa Romantica, where city completed work during previous suspension in May
Falling debris from a hillside below the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens in San Clemente has again halted passenger rail service between San Diego and Orange counties.
“The tracks will reopen once the debris has been cleared and it is determined safe to operate trains through the area,” Amtrak officials said in an announcement Monday morning. “We are working with partner agencies to secure buses to transport passengers around the closures.”
New debris from the unstable slope was discovered in the railroad right-of-way early Monday morning, officials said, and commuter service was halted “out of an abundance of caution.”
“Geotechnical engineers are assessing the situation,” said Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman Eric Carpenter. “We don’t have a timeline for re-establishing service at this point.”
During previous closures, Amtrak has provided bus service between the train stations at Oceanside and Irvine. No bus service is available for Metrolink trains, which normally come as far south as Oceanside. Coaster service between Oceanside and San Diego is unaffected.
Amtrak and Metrolink resumed passenger service May 27 through San Clemente after a one-month suspension to stabilize the slope below Casa Romantica. The 2.5-acre site is an estate built by the city’s founder in the 1920s. It is owned by the city and used for weddings, festivals and special events, and had partially re-opened over the Memorial Day weekend.
The initial landslide at Casa Romantica occurred in late April less that two weeks after a previous six-month suspension of train service, the result of a different landslide two miles south at the Cyprus Shores community near the San Diego County border.
Contractors hired by the OCTA reinforced a rock revetment on the beach and installed steel anchors into the hillside to stabilize the slope at Cyprus Shore in an effort that cost more than $13.7 million.
A previous slide at the same Cyprus Shore site also suspended passenger train service for weeks in 2021.
Soils in both the trouble areas are poor, and experts say a permanent solution will be difficult. The problem was compounded in recent months by the unusually wet winter.
Freight trains have continued to use the tracks, slowed to speeds of 10 to 15 mph, through most of the construction.
The coastal rail route is the only passenger and freight link between San Diego and Los Angeles, and to other rail destinations across the United States.
Southern Orange County is one of several places where the train tracks are threatened by coastal erosion along what’s called the LOSSAN corridor between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.
Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, has twice hosted federal officials in visits to see the tracks at Del Mar and San Clemente. Levin has emphasized the need to improve and relocate sections of the railroad that are vulnerable to sea-level rise.
The OCTA received $5 million in April from the state’s Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program to begin studies for the possible relocation of about 11 miles of track in southern Orange County. The most likely route suggested in the past has been along the Interstate 5 right-of-way.
Levin has supported funding for rail improvements in Orange and San Diego counties, including the planning, engineering and design needed to move about 1.7 miles of the route off the eroding coastal bluffs in Del Mar.
Rerouting the Del Mar segment to an inland tunnel has been projected to cost more than $4 billion, an amount that is rising rapidly. Last year, the project received $300 million to begin preliminary planning and design work, and it is much further along than any Orange County relocation.
San Diego Association of Governments officials say they are on track to begin the final design for the Del Mar segment in 2026, and that construction could start in 2028 and be completed in 2035.
4:41 a.m. June 6, 2023: This story has been updated to add information.
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