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Reopening of passenger rail service to San Diego delayed to late March by rain, site issues

Heavy machinery next to coastal train tracks separated from the ocean by large boulders
Crews conduct hillside stabilization work in November at the site of a recurring landslide near San Clemente.
(Charlie Neuman / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)
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Several days of heavy rain and a new discovery at the San Clemente railroad stabilization project appear to have further extended the suspension of passenger rail service between San Diego and Orange counties.

“Contractors must revise their approach to installing several anchors at the south end of the project to ensure existing foundation piles are not impacted,” officials said in an update on the Orange County Transportation Authority’s website.

Passenger service has been suspended across the work area since track movement was detected in late September. Workers are installing two rows of ground anchors reaching deep into the bedrock along a 700-foot-long slope above the tracks, the site of a recurring landslide. Some of the homes atop the slope are secured by foundation piles.

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“Once work got underway, it was determined that the existing plans for the homes were not precise in detailing the location of the piles,” OCTA spokesman Eric Carpenter said in an email Tuesday. “Because of this, it required some changes to how the work would proceed to ensure safety, prevent additional movement in the hillside, and avoid any damage to those existing piles and the homes above.”

Officials with Metrolink are still responding to recent movement detected in the railway’s foundation near San Clemente after Tropical Storm Kay.

The first row of anchors has been installed, and no additional movement in the slope has been detected, Carpenter said.

Completion of the project has been extended to late March because of the weather and site conditions. Previously, it was to be finished by the end of 2022.

“Discussions about when passenger service can safely resume are ongoing with our partners at Metrolink and the LOSSAN rail corridor agency,” Carpenter said.

North County Transit District continues to operate its Coaster commuter line between San Diego and Oceanside. Amtrak also makes runs between those two cities, and offers a “bus bridge” link between Oceanside and the Amtrak station at Irvine in Orange County.

In the meantime, the contractor hopes to begin excavations Wednesday for the second row of ground anchors, Carpenter said.

A railroad segment at San Clemente is closed for at least another month as track stabilization work continues.

“The heavy rainfall over several days created very muddy and slippery conditions,” he said Tuesday. “Crews are working today moving what dirt they can to smooth out large areas of pooled water to help dry out the site.

“Like everyone who travels this critical link in the state’s rail network, we want to see this emergency work completed as quickly as possible, but at the same time we have to be certain that trains are running on stable tracks and passenger safety is never compromised.”

The seaside route is the only rail connection between San Diego and 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 LOSSAN corridor between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, which is the second-busiest passenger train route in the United States, surpassed only by the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston.


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