Passenger service between San Diego and Orange counties may remain suspended through the end of the year

Work to protect railroad tracks on an unstable hill in San Clemente is now expected to halt all passenger train service between San Diego and Orange counties until mid-December.

Metrolink and Amtrak both suspended service on Sept. 30 after movement was rediscovered in an area of ​​an old landslide north of the San Diego County border that for years has caused occasional problems for the railroad.

Transit officials initially said service would be restored in November, but on Friday they announced an emergency repair contract had been awarded and the work could keep passenger trains off the roads until to the end of the year.

“The new mid-January deadline for construction completion – and a mid-December decision on resuming rail service – came in negotiations with the contracted contractor, Condon-Johnson, which is not It’s not really a construction company.” Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman Eric Carpenter said in an email Tuesday.

The average construction time is subject to change depending on factors including opportunity proposals, permitting, inclement weather and storage of critical building materials, Carpenter said.

“The contractor is working on the final design,” he said. “Right of way and permit procedures are also being completed. Actual construction is expected to begin this month, and OCTA will contact nearby property owners to inform them of the project schedule.”

The 140-year-old Coastal Railroad is the only viable route for passenger and freight trains between San Diego and the rest of the United States. The 350-mile line between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, known as the LOSSAN line, is one of the nation’s largest railroads.

The renovations are expected to cost $12 million. The commission awarded the contract Friday to Condon-Johnson & Associates, a geotechnical contractor with offices in Los Angeles and San Diego. Engineers and technicians will monitor the slopes near the tracks during the project.

BNSF, which operates freight trains serving San Diego, delivers construction materials to the job site by rail. It also operates one freight train per day at reduced speeds through the region. Traditionally, BNSF has six or more freight trains daily serving San Diego, usually running at night to avoid passenger trains.

The North County Transit District continues to operate commuter trains on their regular schedule between Oceanside and San Diego, and they have added runs for Padres baseball games.

Amtrak has trains running between the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego and Oceanside, and provides bus service between Oceanside and the Amtrak station in Irvine. Metrolink trains, which usually stop in Oceanside, were unavailable south of the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo Metrolink station during the outage.

“We’re in uncharted territory with this emergency adjustment project and, as we’ve said all along, passenger safety is at the forefront of all our actions,” said Mark Murphy, OCTA chairman and mayor of Orange, in a statement. . “We want this work to be done as soon as possible, but first we need to make sure that it is done correctly and that the slope is safe.”

The tracks have traveled about 28 inches in the past 13 months, most of that last year, in a 700-foot section near the community of Cyprus Shore south of San Clemente, transportation officials said.

More than 18,000 tons of rock were deposited on the beach after a storm caused coastal erosion in September 2021. Passenger trains were suspended for about three weeks during this operation.

The rain combined with waves and storms in September this year destroyed the coast again and further sliding slowly on the other side. In the past few weeks, contractors have added more rocks to the riprap on the beach to protect the railroad.

Construction under the new contract will involve placing an angle-steel plate with a slope attached to steel cores drilled 100 feet horizontally into the bed.

Annual ridership is approximately 3 million on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner trains and 5 million on Coaster and Metrolink trains. Cargo ships carry $1 billion worth of cargo each year on the LOSSAN route, according to a 2021 report by State Transportation Secretary David S. Kim.

In San Diego County, BNSF primarily serves rail at the Port of San Diego, carrying everything from new foreign cars to construction equipment and wind turbines. A trucking company, the Pasha Group, has its own 157-acre terminal at the port, where it handles 400,000 cars a year, almost all of which arrive on ships and are shipped out of San Diego by rail.

A spokesman for Pasha recently referred questions about the shipment to BNSF, and a BNSF representative did not return a call.

The San Clemente section of tracks is one of at least two vulnerable links in Southern California’s long-term railroad. One is the bluff-top tracks in Del Mar, near San Diego.

Local officials have been working for years on initial plans to reroute a 1.7-mile highway in Del Mar from the coast to a tunnel under the small city. This year the state gave $300 million to the San Diego Association of Governments to continue the project, although the construction has not been paid for, it will likely take a decade or more and is still years away. Costs are estimated at $4 billion or more.

SANDAG and NCTD, like Orange County transportation officials, are focused on maintaining existing tracks.

“Efforts have been made to secure Del Mar’s bluffs until at least 2056,” said NCTD Executive Director Matt Tucker in an emailed response to recent questions.

“Upon completion, the current stabilization project (Del Mar bluffs 5) is designed to stabilize the bluffs for 30 years, which can be extended with future upgrades,” Tucker said.

The fifth phase of the Del Mar bluff stabilization project is expected to begin next year and has been fully funded at more than $65 million. Plans call for more than 2,500 feet of new walls. sea, more concrete-and-steel military piles, drainage ditches, a road along a high bluff and a pedestrian crossing.

The San Clemente section of tracks may eventually also need to be moved off the coast, but no significant research has yet been done.

San Clemente’s main problem is landslides, unlike Del Mar, where the main problem is the development of landslides.

“OCTA continues to review long-term options to protect rail in this region and throughout the entire coastal region,” transportation officials said in a statement Friday. “OCTA’s priority is to work with all partners to move forward with ramp adjustments to ensure the safety of all passengers traveling in the area.”

The California Transportation Commission met in a special session Oct. 3 to authorize $6 million in emergency funding for San Clemente repairs, which is half of the estimated amount. OCTA is working with state and federal officials to secure the remaining funds.