Metrolink and Amtrak service shuts down south of Laguna Niguel to Oceanside because of ground movement

Train service will come to a halt Thursday between south Orange County and Oceanside because of safety concerns over an unstable cliff in southern San Clemente.

“Between the sea, the sand and the earth, there has been some movement of the railroad tracks, we will be working to make sure they are safe for all rail traffic going through the corridor,” Metrolink spokesperson Paul Gonzales said.

Service between the Laguna Niguel//Mission Viejo station and the Oceanside station will stop starting Sept. 16 through Oct. 3. If the work is completed earlier, regular Metrolink service would resume, officials said. The closure also impacts the same route for Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner.

There are 43 passenger trains a day that go through that area.

Pacific Surfliner on its website said trains will not operate south of Irvine through Sunday, Sept. 20. At that point, through Oct. 3, trains will not run between Irvine and Oceanside stations. Bus connections will be provided.

The closure will affect Metrolink’s Orange Line that runs between Los Angeles and Oceanside and the Inland Empire-Orange County Line which connects San Bernardino to Oceanside via Orange. Metrolink said bus connections will not be offered.

Sand erosion and bluff instability has been a hot topic in recent years, with strong surf and high tides causing damage to coastlines as the sea batters the land. This week, a major swell brought massive waves, which combined with a 5.5-foot high tide to push the water toward shore. In that area, the track runs very close to the shoreline.

In coming weeks, several hundred tons of rip rap rocks will be brought in to shore up that stretch of track, Metrolink spokesperson Scott Johnson said.

“Our work now is to make sure everything in the track bed is stable,” Gonzales said.

The boulders, called “hard armoring,” are usually put in as emergency measures when erosion damage is severe.

Johnson said between the ocean and the bluff, there are “multiple things moving,” he said.

Johnson said the issue came to light this past week, and an order was put in place Tuesday for trains to slow down in the area, with the decision to stop service for repairs made on Wednesday.

The area impacted is near a community called Cypress Shores, a private neighborhood in San Clemente where multi-million dollar homes line the bluffside.

San Clemente Councilman Gene James said the city is working with the key parties, including Metrolink, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Orange County Transportation Authority and Cypress Shores.

Having just learned about the concerns, he said he didn’t know how much sand loss played a part in the ground’s movement.

“We think of the waves hitting the shore and going back out,” he said. “But if there’s no sand there, it’s going under the railroad track and impacting that bluff.”

“The only thing I can say is, the safety of our citizens and the riders going through the city is of paramount importance,” he said.

Sand erosion has been a problem for coastal towns in recent years, with San Clemente in line to receive federal funds, if approved, for an $11 million replenishment project that aims, in part, at protecting the railroad.

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