Rose Zadan was waiting at the train station in North San Clemente, not knowing what to do.
Most of the day, the same 10 or so passengers assemble at the platform early in the morning as part of their daily routine, but others had already left after discovering that the train had not arrived.
Zadan had to move to downtown Los Angeles to take a job at his sister’s store. An Uber would cost him at least $100. Even getting her back home in San Clemente was proving difficult so early in the morning.
“It’s a problem,” she said of Wednesday’s announcement that train services would have to be halted by early October to repair nearby tracks.
Large waves and high tides have caused the tracks to shift to an area of South San Clemente near Cypress Shores, a private community tucked behind gates and dotted with multimillion-dollar homes.
Workers were already on train tracks on Thursday, 16 September, with heavy equipment dropping boulders to add a layer of protection from the sea. Service between south of Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station – including San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente – and Oceanside is expected to stop through October 3 for repairs.
43 passenger trains pass through that area in a day. Metrolink spokesman Paul Gonzales said that based on recent Metrolink ridership numbers for July and August, there are about 150 passengers boarding the train in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente, and 191 a day from Oceanside. .
The closure will affect commuters using Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink’s Orange Line, which runs between Los Angeles and Oceanside, and its inland Empire-Orange County Line, which connects San Bernardino to Oceanside.
“It dawned on us very quickly. We moved quickly yesterday to marshal the resources we had, start work on time, and come up with a plan to communicate with our riders and the entire community,” Gonzales said. “
He said the conductors announced the change in service by morning and emails were sent to the riders. Notices were also given on social media.
“We know there’s a general sense of disappointment, but we’re doing what we can as a responsible agency to keep this track in good repair condition,” Gonzales said.
There are plans to “rewrap” large boulders in the coming days, in an effort to protect the sea side of the tracks.
Track movement by sea force reflects the vulnerability of beach infrastructure as the sea inches closer to the coast, with sand erosion no longer offering a buffer against the ocean.
While the tracks remain dry when ocean activity moderates, if a large swell and high tides happen to combine, as they did this week, the water begins to push over the tracks more often, especially in the recent past. With the rapid disappearance of sand over the years.
The Orange County Transportation Authority, along with CalTrans District 12, completed a study earlier this year to assess how future climate change will affect the Orange County Rail Corridor.
“Sea level rise and relevant coastal hazards, including storm surge and shoreline erosion, pose a threat to the approximately 7-mile coastal rail corridor in Orange County,” the OCTA study said.
Slope failure and erosion were also addressed, with the study looking at changing rainfall patterns as well as changing coastal storm patterns that can affect erosion and increase the likelihood of slopes becoming unstable.
Along the Coastal Rail Corridor, there are dangers of various bluff failures and erosion on the ground portion of the tracks and shoreline erosion along the coastline, the study said.
The report said the combination of sea level rise, erosion and flooding could threaten not only railroads and embankments, but also associated infrastructure, such as bridges, culverts and stations.
The most exposed sections of the tracks are the southernmost part of Orange County, as well as Mariposa Promontory, the report said. This is the same section where the landslide occurred in late 2019 and closed the footbridge for months.
OCTA studied options for protecting vulnerable areas, including adding different levels of sea wall and rocky riprap and boulders that could serve as barriers to the ocean. This is the current plan as an emergency measure to protect the tracks.
California Coastal Commission spokesman Noaki Schwartz said two emergency railroad revitalization projects are pending in San Clemente. One is smaller in North Beach, where a slope failure caused boulders to collapse on the beach.
The second is for the southern end of the city, the location where movement was detected this week, and calls for an additional 1,000-foot-long layer of rocks by a 20-foot-wide layer of rocks on the seafront of the tracks. .
There are some who have wondered whether the rail system should move away from the reach of the ocean.
Tony Nelson, who created the advocacy group Capo Cares, has had a railroad issue on his radar for some time; He is concerned about plans for the Serra siding project that would extend a side track into Capistrano Beach – with the area suffering severe erosion, she said.
Metrolink and OCTA have proposed a 1.2 mile extension of side track at Dana Point near the existing main line from Victoria Boulevard running south and connecting to the main track near the railroad crossing at Beach Road.
But Nelson believes that the entire southern section of the railroad should be relocated, rather than expanding along the vulnerable coast.
“There’s no big job hub to come down here,” she said. “There’s a good argument for increasing electric bus transportation.”
The study noted that OCTA explored the relocation of an inland train to run along a 5-freeway in its climate change assessment, although this option would come with a higher price tag in the billions of dollars. The two-section rail tunnel could be constructed along Interstate 5 from San Onofre State Beach to Avenida Aeropuerto in San Juan Capistrano for an estimated $5.9 billion.
San Clemente Mayor Cathy Ward said the Coastal Railroad was built before the city even existed.
“Before everything was built, that train worked well. Now, what’s happening with the ocean, I’m not sure it’s a long-term thing,” she said. “Is this something that’s viable?”
San Clemente has been waiting nearly 20 years for a major sand replenishment project called the San Clemente Shoreline Project. Approval of $9.3 million in federal funding is set to go before the Senate this year.
The project will include 251,000 cubic yards of sand from Linda Lane Beach to T-Street Beach on the south side of the pier.
While that is north where the track movement occurred, that sand must be fed into a more southerly area to help protect the railroad by waves and currents, Ward said. “We need sand. The sand moves around and it will benefit the region as we move south.”
In addition to Metrolink and Amtrak, the rail system is also used by freight operator BNSF Railway, which ferry goods to the region’s ports.
“It’s a very important rail corridor,” Gonzales said. “It’s an equally important link to Southern California.”
While long-term solutions are still unclear, travelers and commuters are left wondering what to do during the current repairs.
Janet Link, visiting her daughter in Orange from Pennsylvania, thought it would be a good walk to take the train to San Juan Capistrano.
She jumped early in the morning in Orange, only to be asked to exit the train at the Mission Viejo stop.
“I didn’t know I couldn’t get there. Nothing was posted,” she said. “Why is he selling me tickets there if I can’t go there?”
She was able to hitch a ride to San Juan Capistrano, but expected Uber to head back to Mission Viejo to catch the train back to Orange in the afternoon.
He planned to have a long, leisurely lunch.
“Sunny California is beautiful,” she said of her walk. “Once you get where you’re going.”