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North County Transit District approves fencing along tracks in Del Mar

surfer train tracks del mar.jpg
Nicholas McVicker / KPBS
A surfer going back up the bluff in Del Mar as a Coaster train passes behind her on Jan. 21, 2022.

The conflict between Del Mar residents wanting to freely cross the railroad tracks to the beach and the North CountyTransit District came to a head Thursday night.

The NCTD board voted 7-0 to install fencing along the tracks in the seaside city. Residents living along the bluffs oppose the plan, saying that they've been crossing the tracks for more than 100 years.

The district wants to put a stop to that, saying it's a safety risk. There have been hundreds of near-misses and five deaths in Del Mar in the past five years. The latest one happened Dec. 6. The death was later ruled a suicide.

RELATED: Del Mar's crumbling bridge could get boost from infrastructure bill

woman sunbathing del mar bluffs train tracks.jpg
Alexander Nguyen / KPBS
A woman sunbathing on the bluffs next to the train tracks in Del Mar despite the posted "No Public Access" sign, Jan. 21, 2021.

The plan calls for 6,748 feet of fencing to be installed in two phases. The first phase will be 3,723 feet of fencing from Coast Highway to Sixth Street. The second would go from Sixth to the bluffs.

The agency said the fence will make the tracks safer. But some residents say that's a weak argument.

“I mean, people have to be on guard knowing that they're by the railroad tracks and have to look around," Carmel Valley resident Andy Rusnak said. "I mean, there's hazards everywhere."

RELATED: NCTD Releases Updated Rail-Safety Plans For Del Mar Sea Bluffs

Rusnak likes to walk his dog on a path along the tracks, and fencing it would ruin the view of the bluffs, he said. For residents living along the tracks, such as Stephanie Tarkington, the view isn't the issue. It's the access.

She lives on 11th Street next to the tracks overlooking the bluffs.

“We have lived on this street since 1970, and so we have seen tens of thousands of people cross without any kind of injury at all," she said. "And so we really feel that access here is incredibly important."

North County Transit District votes to install fencing along Del Mar train tracks

The NCTD approved the plan despite opposition from Del Mar and the California Coastal Commission. Del Mar City Councilmember Terry Gaasterland is on the NCTD board but abstained from voting Thursday.

She said the agency is forcing the plan on Del Mar.

“NCTD has said, they will put up 6-foot welded wire mesh fencing unless Del Mar takes on ownership of the fencing and maintains it forever going forward," she said. "That is not something Del Mar can do.”

NCTD said the wired mesh is more durable, harder to climb and harder to cut. But the agency also presented Del Mar with other options, including less fencing, shorter fencing and different styles, such as a post-and-cable fence.

Del Mar has until Feb. 28 to come to an agreement, otherwise, the NCTD will proceed with its 6-foot plan.