DEL MAR — A presentation to the Del Mar City Council about next steps in the region’s massive railway corridor relocation project went more or less off the rails Monday as residents pushed back against plans to tunnel railroad tracks under the city.
The San Diego Association of Governments is leading the regional effort to relocate a crucial section of the 351-mile Los Angeles-San Luis Obispo-San Diego (LOSSAN) Rail Corridor along the failing Del Mar bluffs.
The massive undertaking, estimated to cost around $4 billion, proposes moving 1.7 miles of track off the bluff edge and further inland into tunnels beneath the affluent coastal community.
SANDAG received $300 million in state funds last year for preliminary engineering and environmental studies for the project. By 2035, the agency aims to complete the realignment and have it open for riders, with no construction funding yet.
“2035 seems like a long time away, but for a project of this scale, it’s an aggressive but attainable schedule,” SANDAG Senior Planner Danny Veeh said.
On Monday, Veeh and other SANDAG staff presented a rough project timeline and information about upcoming public input opportunities. However, the over two dozen residents gathered at City Hall were far from satisfied with the update.
In an hour-long series of public comments, residents demanded information about how the tunneling project would impact their homes and claimed SANDAG has not been transparent in their communication so far.
Many shared concerns about how SANDAG is only moving ahead with two track realignment route options— one along Camino Del Mar around 1,000 feet east of the current tracks and a high-speed route along Crest Canyon around 2,000 feet east of the tracks — when they were initially considering five.
A few years ago, SANDAG also presented a route along the Interstate 5 corridor and two others along Crest Canyon Road. While SANDAG leaders said a final alignment won’t be chosen until 2026, Del Mar residents said they are confused why the I-5 option has been pushed to the wayside.
“We don’t know how you’ve gone from five routes to two routes … we want to understand the reasoning, and we want to understand how you’re going to protect the community, and you frankly have not been doing a good job of that so far,” resident Ian Galton said.
Monica Meredith said she and other residents had worked hard to have homes in Del Mar and asked if SANDAG would use eminent domain — government acquisition of private property for public projects — to buy the homes above the new train route.
“It [the rail] never belonged on the bluff, it belongs on Interstate 5,” Meredith said. “We don’t want to be forced to give up our dream homes so a freight train can go there.”
Several community members said SANDAG could expect lawsuits if they proceed.
Veeh said SANDAG doesn’t have answers to many of these questions because they still need to do an environmental study, but that further details regarding which relocation routes are more feasible will be shared at upcoming public information sessions.
Councilmember Terry Gaasterland, a SANDAG board member for Del Mar, asked whether the I-5 route will be studied as part of the environmental review. Veeh said the agency has not decided which alignments to study further.
Mayor Tracy Martinez noted that residents’ support for the I-5 alignment is inconsistent with data gathered by SANDAG in 2021, which suggested that the I-5 option ranked low for “community acceptance.”
Veeh said this was a poor choice of words and explained that it ranked low because it would require higher property acquisition compared to the other routes.
“In order to get the tracks from Solana Beach to I-5, we are cutting across — just imagine an elevated rail line coming across the trench in Del Mar, across the Fairgrounds, flying across the San Dieguito lagoon and through that hillside. These are massive infrastructure,” Veeh said.
Councilmember Dave Druker, another SANDAG board member for Del Mar, reminded residents that many of the answers they want will take time and urged them to be patient.
“Nothing has been decided as of yet, except the train is gonna get off the bluff,” Druker said. “We are going to be working very closely with SANDAG to make sure this is the most open and transparent process possible.”
Other council members like Dan Quirk, who argued that the train is inessential to the region because of low ridership, were less optimistic.
“We’re screwed, okay? We’re screwed. SANDAG is not gonna move it to I-5,” Quirk said, also calling the project a “massive fraud” and “one of the greatest boondoggles in America.”
SANDAG’s $300 million in funding will carry over the project until 2026. Regional and state officials have been lobbying the federal government to fund the actual construction, scheduled to start in 2028.
Public outreach plans
SANDAG Outreach Officer Brandy Sweitzer said the agency is planning virtual sessions to share information and listen to feedback on the rail relocation in both late August and September.
Both day and evening sessions will be held to accommodate different schedules, and recordings will be shared online. SANDAG is also working on a comprehensive public outreach plan to ensure people have equitable access to information on and offline.
“We’re looking at a wide variety of ways to get in contact with people,” Sweitzer said.