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Unstable slope stops coastal train service for up to 60 days

Pacific Surfliner locomotive in an undated photo.
Amtrak California
Pacific Surfliner locomotive in an undated photo.

Shifting coastal ground in South Orange County has halted passenger train service between Oceanside and Mission Viejo, due to a track closure in San Clemente.

Both Amtrak and Metrolink commuter train service have been shut down in the area, essentially cutting off passenger train service between San Diego and the rest of California.

A statement from Metrolink said the agency is working with geologists and surveyors to ensure passenger safety.

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“But until we have confirmation from the experts, the slope movement has stopped, we will not resume Metrolink service,” Metrolink officials said in a press release.

Hasan Ikhrata, chief executive officer of San Diego’s planning agency, SANDAG, said the gap in train service is expected to last about two months.

“Service for passengers will stop for at least 60 days. Period,” Ikhrata said, following a conversation with Metrolink CEO Darren Kettle Friday morning. “The freight service will continue to operate and the freight trains will move at a slower speed.”

San Diego County has suffered the same problems with what a California Coastal Commission geologist has called the “ancient landslide” that is coupled with coastal erosion. San Diego has taken steps to stabilize the slope by digging holes for pilings and building sea walls.

“You can patch and stabilize as much as you want, and you can fight nature, but nature will win at the end of the day,” Ikhrata said. “That is why we shouldn’t waste any more money in patching, but work hard to move this track off the bluff.”

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SANDAG has received $300 million in state funds to design a plan to move the train tracks inland.

Last year, South Orange County faced a similar problem. The tracks were shut down for two weeks, while workers brought in additional boulders to help shore up the eroding coastline.

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