All aboard, again! Passenger trains set to return to Orange County’s troubled coastal tracks

Railroad tracks and a hillside next to the Pacific Ocean
Rail service is set to return through San Clemente after a landslide closed train tracks for the second time this year.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

For the second time this year, passenger trains will resume full service through San Clemente following a devastating landslide that imperiled its coastal tracks.

Both Metrolink and Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner are set to return to the beach-side route on Monday after a more-than-five-week suspension of all passenger transit.

The announcement comes as emergency repairs were completed this week on a temporary barrier to protect the tracks from any future falling debris from a landslide at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens.


Stretching 250 feet long and standing 12 feet tall, the wall is secured with pile beams dug 32 feet into the ground. According to Metrolink, the project is expected to cost between $5.5 million and $6 million.

The state has pledged to spend $3 million to help cover construction costs.

“We are thrilled that we were able to make this happen so quickly,” said Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, who is also an Orange County Transportation Authority director. “It’s just in time for the summer tourist season and local businesses in San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and Dana Point.”

The trains are also returning three days before the start of the popular Comic-Con convention in San Diego.

Passenger service first came to a halt on April 27 when the Casa Romantica bluff collapsed two weeks after a crack was discovered on the historical landmark’s ocean-view terrace.

San Clemente, which owns Casa Romantica, began working on stabilizing the slope, a project that isn’t expected to be completed any time soon.

“We are talking about a large and very expensive engineering project,” said San Clemente Mayor Chris Duncan. “The city will be deciding on a course of action at next week’s council meeting.”


Transit authorities felt confident enough to resume train service through the south Orange County beach town on Memorial Day weekend, when another slope failure at the site suspended service just 10 days later.

OCTA’s board of directors declared an emergency in June to fast-track construction of the wall.

Only Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s freight lines have been allowed to travel through San Clemente, but at decreased speeds.

Amtrak resumed ferrying passengers on a bus bridge between Irvine and Oceanside.

Prior to the Casa Romantica landslide in April, full passenger service had been suspended for six months while construction crews worked on a $13.7-million project to secure the tracks from the impact of another landslide last September near San Clemente State Beach.

All regularly scheduled train rides returned in April but the tracks were shuttered two weeks later due to the Casa Romantica landslide.

The repeated closures prompted elected officials and transportation leaders to consider long-term solutions, including moving the coastal tracks inland, as San Clemente became the weakest link in the 351-mile Lossan rail corridor that connects San Luis Obispo and San Diego.


Funded by a $5-million state grant, OCTA is undertaking a study that will consider track relocation among several options.

In the meantime, the first phase of a federally-supported sand replenishment project that will, in part, address the stresses to the tracks posed by coastal erosion could begin in San Clemente as soon as November.

Foley said the project boosts her confidence that “protect-in-place” strategies will secure San Clemente’s tracks for the foreseeable future.

“We’ll start to create the buffer on the coastal side,” she said. “We’ll also have the wall between the bluff. We should be able to keep the trains running as we study long-term solutions.”

VIDEO | 05:28
LA Times Today: Amid crumbling cliffs, Orange County considers moving its famously scenic rail line inland

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