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California’s coastal Amtrak service still down for Thanksgiving holiday

The threat of a bluff collapse in San Clemente in late September continues to interrupt passenger rail service between San Diego and points north.

Transportation officials in September told San Diegans the passenger service would stop for at least 60 days.

The head of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), San Diego’s planning agency, said bluff stabilization in Orange County is ongoing, and Hasan Ikhrata hopes rail service will, indeed, resume next month.

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“This holiday season is really the time when people enjoy that train ride. And people write me and text me and email me and say ‘What are you doing? Why can’t I take the train to Los Angeles?’” Ikhrata said.

Southern California’s coastal passenger line, called the Surfliner, runs from San Diego to San Luis Obispo and it is the second busiest rail corridor in the United States. An unstable slope above the track in southern Orange County posed the threat of a landslide. Officials fear that homes, on top of the slope, will slide down onto the track.

AMTRAK service between San Diego and Mission Viejo has been shut down. Also, commuter rail service on Metrolink has been disrupted.

Unstable coastal bluffs are a big problem for rail service in Orange and San Diego Counties, where coastal erosion has also caused temporary gaps in passenger service. Ikhrata said while Orange County has dangerous erosion above the tracks, in San Diego the rail bed itself is unstable, threatening a collapse onto the beach below.

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“We don’t want our trains to (end up) swimming in the ocean. In Orange County they don’t want the houses to end up on the track,” Ikhrata said.

The ultimate solution in San Diego County is to move the tracks inland. The state of California has pledged $300 million for San Diego to do geological and environmental planning for that move. The actual price of moving the tracks will be much higher.

Next week SANDAG will receive the first $150 million of the state pledge. But much of the cost of actually realigning tracks will have to come from the federal government.

Congressman Mike Levin, a Democrat representing San Diego and Orange Counties in the 49th District, told KPBS Midday Edition this week that federal officials are getting the message.

“We had Pete Buttigieg out, the transportation secretary. We had the president out, and he referred to the rail corridor, as well, as a priority. And we are going to follow through as best we can and get those federal funds as quickly as possible,” Levin said.

Ikhrata said when Buttigieg visited San Diego late last week local officials took him on a train ride from Old Town to Del Mar, to help focus his attention on the need for coastal rail service.

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