West Coast
The San Diego Coaster in Del Mar on Sept.19, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

CA - The Plan to Save the Del Mar Train Tracks

Regional leaders are moving on a plan to relocate the train tracks along the Del Mar bluffs into an underground tunnel, hoping the expensive, lengthy project can beat a catastrophic cliff collapse.

A plan to move the train tracks that run along Del Mar’s bluffs into an underground tunnel is moving forward thanks to a $300 million state grant.  

That’s a starting point for a $3 billion project that’s a major piece of the region’s $160 billion long-term plan for the region, managed by the San Diego Association of Governments. The new tunnel would run 80 feet underground, and nearly a mile inland from their current, precarious location, but would take until at least 2035 to be completed.

The plan also includes double tracking the route between the San Dieguito Lagoon and Sorrento Valley, a process that will add a second set of rails for trains to pass each other, which would allow more frequent service on the busy corridor.

The bluffs have been slowly eroding for years, causing multiple bluff collapses, and becoming a growing threat to both beachgoers and crucial regional infrastructure. As the bluffs have continued to grow more fragile, relocating the train tracks has become critical, SANDAG and Del Mar officials agree.

The Concern

A section of the train tracks in Del Mar on Sept.19, 2022.

In 1941, heavy rains caused a bluff collapse that resulted in “the great train wreck of 1941.” A northbound freight train crashed onto the Del Mar beaches below, causing three fatalities.

In 2021, a century-old retaining wall collapsed, fortunately not while a train was passing by, but it shut down the rail corridor for weeks.

Sea level rise and a faster rate of coastal erosion have caused multiple smaller bluff collapses over the years. The bluffs are now eroding at an average rate of 4 to 6 inches per year Danny Veeh, a senior planner at SANDAG, said at the Sept. 9 meeting.

The LOSSAN corridor, which is the 351-mile railroad route from San Diego to Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, serves more than 8 million passengers per year, making it the second busiest rail corridor in the U.S.

Almost two miles of that corridor runs seaside along the Del Mar bluffs.

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