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Rain means more delays in San Clemente rail line repair

Construction crews have been working to stabilize the San Clemente rail bed since train service was suspended in September.

Officials hoped to reopen passenger train service between San Diego and Orange Counties in November. Then the date got pushed to December, and then to the beginning of February.

But recent rain is pushing the construction timeline back even further.

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"Right now based on the amount of rain we’ve had, and just some challenges with the site construction, we think a realistic time to finish this construction is by the end of March," said Eric Carpenter with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA).

He said train service will remain suspended at least until the end of February.

That’s when construction will be assessed, and they’ll decide if it is safe to re-open the tracks — even with work still underway.

At first, service may only resume on the weekends.

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"We want to reopen this line as quickly as possible. We want (passengers) to have this reliable service again," Carpenter said. "It's just that this is emergency work that we did not anticipate and we're completing it as quickly and safely as possible, but the rain has been an extra challenge for us."

The closure came after officials noticed the train tracks had moved over 28 inches toward the ocean since the last study in 2021.

Carpenter says the good news is that no additional movement has been detected recently, "We’re monitoring that around the clock and so far, we've not seen additional movement. Which tells us that this fix is working and that's really good news."  

But during an OCTA board meeting, members of a San Clemente group called Save Our Beaches criticized the method being used to stabilize the bluffs.

Group spokesman Gary Walsh told board members that the loss of beach sand is what’s threatening the rails, and said that is what really needs to be looked into.

"By focusing on armoring instead of replacing the sand, it's like a heart attack victim relying on drugs and CPR, rather than lifestyle changes," he said.

Walsh said preventative measures are what’s needed, "Instead of dumping more riprap in anticipation of this threat to the tracks, is the replacement of sand."

Pictures presented during the meeting show beaches along the rail line wide enough for volleyball courts and fire pits.

But over the years, those beaches have washed away.

Carpenter with OCTA said the focus right now is getting the tracks back up and running.

"It is a temporary fix," he said. "We are also undergoing a study that will look more long-term at what's needed, and of course that will involve a lot more partners. Both of the cities involved and at the regional, state and federal level as well... We're focused on transportation."

$12 million was approved for the emergency repairs, though the total price tag may exceed this approved amount. An update on costs will be presented at the next board meeting.