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OCTA Moves Ahead with Study on What’s Threatening Rail Corridor, How to Keep Trains Moving Safely

With emergency work complete, OCTA will work with partners, including newly hired consultant, to find lasting solutions

ORANGE – The Orange County Transportation Authority is pushing forward on studying solutions to protect the vital coastal rail line that connects passengers, freight and military assets from San Diego County to Orange County and important destinations farther north.

The OCTA Board today selected HDR Engineering Inc. as the firm to lead the South Coast Rail Infrastructure Feasibility Study and Alternative Concepts Analysis. The study will bring together technical experts and public agency partners and engage a wide range of stakeholders to pinpoint the issues threatening the rail corridor and offer solutions to protect it.

Two major landslides in the past year near the rail line in San Clemente forced the temporary closure of the track to passenger service for several months while OCTA and its partners worked on emergency projects to stabilize the track and protect it from falling debris.

The track through San Clemente reopened to all service in July and remains open, including to Metrolink regional rail and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner passengers.

Cyprus Shore Project image
Cyprus Shore project

Now OCTA is moving ahead with the first of two studies to seek longer-term solutions.

“We’ve seen just how important this rail line is – especially with the challenges of the last year – to the tens of thousands of passengers and the business owners and others who rely on steady train service,” said OCTA Chairman Gene Hernandez, also the mayor of Yorba Linda. “Now that we’ve dealt with the emergencies that forced the track to temporarily close, we will continue to work with urgency with all our partners to ensure our tracks can remain open and reliable.”

Framework for Studies

In February, the OCTA Board approved the two-phase approach, with the first phase to examine short- to medium-term solutions, then a second-phase study that would look at longer-term solutions.

The approval to hire HDR to conduct the first study is a major step in that effort.

The goals of the Phase 1 study, which include the cities of Dana Point and San Clemente and unincorporated coastal regions of Orange and San Diego counties, include:

  • Developing options to protect coastal rail infrastructure in its current location
  • Gaining a more detailed understanding of climate effects on the rail line
  • Identifying potential solutions for beach erosion
  • Consulting with key stakeholders and agencies each step of the way.

The study is expected to cost approximately $2 million, with grant funding already identified. Future costs for making the necessary improvements to ensure ongoing rail operations along the 7 miles of south Orange County coast would be identified through the study.

ls of the Phase 2 study, which will look at longer-term options, include:

  • Partnering with LOSSAN, state and federal agencies
  • Developing options for protecting or potentially moving the rail line
  • Creating an action plan
  • Consulting and engaging residents and key stakeholders throughout the process.

Critical to the success of studying how to protect the rail line, OCTA will partner with other agencies such as Metrolink, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency, the California Coastal Commission, United States Army Corps of Engineers, and other key stakeholders.

Casa Romantica Project image
Casa Romantica project

Emergency Work Wrapping Up

Milepost 206.8 (Cyprus Shore)

The emergency work along 700 feet of rail line in south San Clemente largely wrapped up on Sunday, Aug. 13, with hydroseeding of the reformed slope covering the newly built grade-beam wall. The wall was built just below homes in Cyprus Shore.

OCTA led the emergency work at that location beginning in October 2022, after continued movement in the hillside on the inland side of the track – and erosion of the beach on the coastal side – caused movement of the track of up to 28 inches.

The emergency fix included installing 220 ground anchors – each 133 feet long – into the bedrock below, securing two rows of 110 grade beams that helped stabilize the hillside above. The wall included approximately 1,000 cubic yards of shotcrete (sprayed concrete) to help protect the railroad track.

Recently, the wall was covered again with soil and reseeded so vegetation will eventually cover the hillside again.

Milepost 204.6 (Casa Romantica)

The rail line through San Clemente reopened for all passenger rail service on July 17, as emergency work was completed on a temporary barrier wall to protect the track below the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens.

Metrolink, which operates regional passenger rail service, and its contractors worked in partnership with OCTA to build the temporary barrier wall, which is 250 feet long and 12 feet high, with the piles set 32 feet below ground.

The wall is meant to keep any debris from reaching the tracks. The city of San Clemente, which owns the hillside below Casa Romantica, continues to work on a longer-term fix to stabilize the hillside.

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