REGION — Caltrans has issued an emergency declaration after a recent landslide in San Clemente that continues to shutter passenger rail service between San Diego and Orange counties.
The Jan. 24 landslide, which brought debris from the hillside slope along Mariposa Trail Bridge in San Clemente onto the rail right-of-way, has indefinitely shut down all passenger service between San Juan Capistrano and Oceanside, part of the 351-mile LOSSAN (Los Angeles-San Luis Obispo-San Diego) corridor.
The Feb. 1 emergency declaration allows the Orange County Transportation Authority to access $10 million in immediate emergency funding to protect and restore rail service along this segment of the LOSSAN corridor.
“This section of rail is vital to the economic prosperity of the entire Southern California region and provides critical commuter, intercity and freight rail service every day. This emergency declaration will give OCTA the immediate funding needed to fix this landslide and get the trains moving again as quickly and safely as possible,” said Caltrans Director Tony Tavares.
Over the past week, crews have worked to stabilize the site by removing two sections of the Mariposa Pedestrian Bridge, laying plastic tarps over the slope to protect it from the ongoing rain and implementing drainage infrastructure.
While minor soil movement has continued at the site, OCTA said these measures have helped to slow it down significantly.
BNSF freight trains can continue running through the area at 10 mph during overnight hours.
On Feb. 2, OCTA and Metrolink announced plans to construct a barrier wall to prevent further landslides onto the tracks. OCTA has also been working with the California Transportation Commission as of Monday to secure an additional $2 million for debris removal and other pre-construction services.
“The path forward could include restoring limited passenger rail service during construction of the wall, but no timeline for letting passenger trains run again has been determined at this point. The safety of passengers, as always, will guide that decision,” OCTA said.
A similar barrier wall was built along a different section of the rail line in San Clemente last summer after a separate landslide beneath Casa Romantica closed the rail.
State Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas), who represents the area from Laguna Niguel to La Jolla, said she is optimistic that this retaining wall can be built expeditiously.
“The barrier wall built below Casa Romantica was completed much faster than the anticipated 3-week window, so hopefully this project will be similar,” Blakespear said on X, formerly Twitter, on Feb. 3.
The ongoing closure has long-reaching impacts on the region and the LOSSAN corridor. In 2022, according to Caltrans, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner saw a ridership of around 1.6 million, and the Metrolink and North County Transit District’s Coaster trains carried 5 million passengers.
This closure marks the fifth time in the last three years that passenger rail service has been halted in San Clemente as the bluffs continue to be battered by erosion. Elected leaders, including Blakespear and Congressman Mike Levin, say agencies need greater collaboration to support rail resiliency in the long term and coordinate responses.
Earlier this year, the 351-mile LOSSAN corridor was added to the federal Corridor Identification and Development (ID) program, which facilitates identifying projects for strategically important rail corridors nationwide.
Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also initiated a sand replenishment project in San Clemente to provide an additional buffer for the bluff and rail. However, that project has been paused due to poor sand quality from the borrow site off Oceanside, with leaders considering switching to a borrow site off Del Mar.