$300 million secured for plan to move train tracks off crumbling Del Mar bluffs

A wide view of the Del Mar bluffs, with railroad tracks.
A Surfliner train by Amtrak travels along the bluffs in Del Mar in 2019.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The San Diego region is slated to receive $300 million to help relocate the train tracks off the eroding cliffs in Del Mar, regional transportation officials announced Friday.

The funding comes as part of California’s $308-billion state budget signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom recently, which also includes $4.2 billion to complete the state’s high-speed rail project in the Central Valley between Bakersfield and Merced.

Sections of the seaside bluffs in Del Mar have abruptly collapsed in recent years, causing Coaster and Amtrak service to be temporarily halted for hours or days at a time. Transit officials have reassured the public that passenger and cargo trains along the city’s 1.7-mile stretch of tracks are safe, but the landslides have repeatedly raised the specter of disaster.


The nearby Torrey Pines State Beach saw a sizable collapse Wednesday, which sent boulders bigger than a car tumbling onto the sand. Nobody was hurt, according to law enforcement.

The San Diego Assn. of Governments, or SANDAG, and North County Transit District have over decades spent millions of dollars buttressing the cliffs and repairing drainage structures for storm water, which along with pounding tides has steadily eroded the cliffs.

Still, top state and local officials have recognized the need to eventually relocate the tracks inland, a project currently slated to cost about $2.5 billion, according to officials with SANDAG. Previous estimates have gone as high as $4 billion.

The new cash infusion will allow SANDAG to compete for matching funds from the $1.2-trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year, said SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata.

“This $300 million is a critical down payment,” he said. “We have talked for years about moving the rail tracks off the Del Mar Bluffs, and with this funding, we can now do it.”

Ikhrata said his agency already has a blueprint for the project that would move the tracks into a tunnel about 80 feet underground and inland nearly a mile. Pending environmental review, the project could break ground within three years and be completed by the end of the decade, he said.

The tracks in Del Mar are part of the 351-mile Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor — which carries roughly 8 million passengers and more than $1 billion worth of freight every year. The line is a key connection between factories in Mexico and markets in the United States.