Rain halts work on San Clemente railroad stabilization project

Crews work to stabilize the cliff-side rail bed in San Clemente in November.
Crews work to stabilize the cliff-side rail bed in San Clemente in November.
(Charlie Neuman / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

This week’s rain halted work on the San Clemente slope stabilization project, but it was unclear whether the delay will extend the suspension of passenger train service on the only rail connection between Orange and San Diego counties.

“It’s too wet to work,” Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman Joel Zlotnik said Thursday. “They go out each morning and check to see if conditions are OK to work. We’ve said all along weather could be a factor.”

Metrolink and Amtrak passenger service between the two counties has been suspended since Sept. 30 because of a recurring landslide in a 700-foot section of track near the Cyprus Shore community in San Clemente. Crews are installing ground anchors in the slope above the railroad tracks to prevent further movement.


The seaside route is the only rail connection between San Diego and points north, including Los Angeles, and the rest of the United States. Freight service has continued across the repair site, although at reduced speeds and frequency. The segment is part of the second-busiest passenger train route in the United States.

Passenger service on the North County Transit District’s Coaster commuter trains and Amtrak passenger trains remains available on a normal schedule between San Diego and Oceanside. Amtrak also offers a connection on buses, called a “bus bridge,” between its trains at Oceanside and Irvine.

Metrolink provides service north of San Clemente, and Amtrak to its rail stations north of Irvine.

Passenger service was suspended for about two weeks in September 2021 when movement was discovered at the San Clemente site. During that suspension, construction workers added 18,000 tons of boulders to the beach revetment that helps to hold back the slope. More boulders have been added in recent months.

No new movement in the slope had been detected as of Thursday, Zlotnik said. Before September 2022, the slope had pushed the tracks more than 28 inches toward the ocean in a little more than one year.

“The first row of 104 anchors has been installed, and crews will be testing them through mid-January to ensure they are secure,” the Orange County agency said in a news release. “Meanwhile, crews are beginning to work on the excavation activities set to begin the week of Jan. 16.”


Work is expected to continue through February, according to the Orange County Transportation Authority website. Passenger service could resume before then if all rail agencies agree it is safe to restart.

Dry conditions and warming were expected Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. However, at least two more storms with significant precipitation are forecast for next week.

Construction costs have been estimated at $12 million. The California Transportation Commission approved $6 million in emergency funding for the project in October. The rest of the money is expected from the federal Surface Transportation Block Grant Program.