Coastal erosion threatens to further derail OC train lines

By Zeke Reed

Train tracks run along the coast of San Clemente in California. Photo by Shutterstock.

Service resumed last week on a crucial regional train track that had been derailed for months because of shifting land in south San Clemente. In September, landslides combined with storm surges to displace 700 hundred feet of track.

Metrolink and Amtrak trains are now running again from LA to San Diego after months of emergency repairs. But even after bolstering the track, the threat of coastal erosion and sand loss remain.

LA Times Columnist Gustavo Arellano says this might mean the tracks will have to be rerouted inland at great expense. 

“Mike Levin, the congressmember who represents southern Orange County and northern San Diego County, is working a thing out with the feds where there's gonna be $4 million given to the Orange County Transportation Authority so they could do a study about what [they should] do.”

In the meantime, local officials are working with state and federal partners to resupply sand between the tracks and the ocean. Millions of dollars have already been allocated for the project. 

According to Arellano, depleted sand levels are the result of changes to the built environment.

“What scientists keep saying is that there's been so much development in south OC that sand cannot naturally replenish itself. Because when it would rain, you'd have dirt going into the creeks [and] going into the ocean. Well, when you have asphalt and you have houses and you have parks and all of that, that's not going to happen anymore.”

Coastal erosion affects more than just transportation infrastructure. As a beach tourism town, San Clemente was hit particularly hard by the long closure. 

Arellano says the tracks represent “a very vital corridor to the economic viability of the entire state. … All [those] millions of dollars for the small businesses [were] just completely washed out.”

Even if the tracks are eventually relocated, coastal homes and businesses remain at risk in much of Southern California. Beachfront communities will have to continually adapt to sea level rise and increasingly unpredictable weather driven by climate change.