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Off the Bluffs
Dwight Worden | Council member

Click here for a more in-depth analysis

Here are key points in support of relocating the rails off the Del Mar Bluffs:

Capacity. The rail corridor, carrying 50 trains a day, is going to a double track system and 100 trains by 2035. The Del Mar Bluffs are the weak link. Even if the bluffs could be double tracked, which is next to impossible, double tracking across Coast Blvd would require grade separation, and that would require either an unimaginable tunneling under Coast, or more likely elevating the rail above Coast (or a combination of both). Given rail grades cannot be steeper than about 2% (or the trains can’t get going) this would require elevated, double-tracked rail, back probably most of the way to the fairgrounds!

Environmental Damage. Trenching and double tracking the bluffs would require a massive excavation, seawalls, and upper bluff stabilization, accelerating beach erosion and destroying our natural beach bluffs. The Coastal Commission opposes a trench. Seacliff collapses are serious and accelerating.

We Need a Long-Term Solution. Excavating a trench is estimated to cost $300 to $400 million but will last only about 75 years. Construction and long-term issues, including sea level rise, are raised. SANDAG’s interim shoring (phase 4 starts this fall) will cost more than $100 million and will only last until about 2050. It’s time to recognize we need relocation of the rails.

Safety. Approximately a dozen people per year are killed by trains between Oceanside and San Diego. A high incidence of strikes and near misses occurs on the Del Mar bluffs. Relocation of the rails will solve this problem.

Beach Access. Currently, there is no legal crossing of the rails between Coast Boulevard and Penasquitos Lagoon/State Beach. Relocation of the rails will solve that problem.

• Economic Activity. The Port of San Diego and other entities generate well more than $8 billion a year in economic activity for the region dependent on the rail line. Passengers and freight alike depend on this rail line, the second busiest in the nation.

Military Use. The San Diego-LA rail line is designated as a connector line in the national STRACNET (Strategic Rail Corridor Network) but is at risk, compromising national security.

Tunnel Cost. Five tunnel alignments have been evaluated by SANDAG. The most sensible is the Crest Canyon Higher Speed Alignment estimated to cost $3.015 billion. While that’s a lot, it is not so much when the economic value of the rail system is considered and that we are spending more than $2 billion to bring the trolley from Old Town to UCSD, billions to clean Point Loma sewage for reuse, billions on double tracking and other rail improvements, billions on freeway and roadway improvements. The cost of a Del Mar tunnel is justifiable given the problems it solves. Finding funding is a challenge we must meet.

The Importance of Rail Service. Moving freight and people from the road system to the rail system reduces GHG emissions, reduces road congestion, and reduces the need for expensive new freeway and road construction. Our transportation system needs improvement, and relocating the rails is part of that effort.

Adopted Plans Call for the Tunnel. The 2050 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) adopted by SANDAG calls for relocation of the rails in 2050.

Added Benefits of Rail Relocation. When the rails are relocated, ocean front bluffs will be left natural and available for public use - for trails, biking, beach access, and more. Costs for seawalls and stabilization efforts will be avoided. Noise and vibration impacts to neighbors will be eliminated. Deaths by rail strike will stop.

Tunneling technology. The cost of trenching will come down as technology increases. The SANDAG “Grand Vision” includes hundreds of miles of high speed tunnels. A Del Mar tunnel will fit nicely.

We need to look long-term and start serious work now to relocate the rails sooner than 2050.

A more in depth analysis of this complicated issue can be found on our website.



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