Oceanside, CA—On August 22, 2018, a section of the Del Mar bluffs (Bluffs) cliff front collapsed onto the beach. This collapse occurred approximately 65 feet from the North County Transit District (NCTD) rail line. NCTD temporarily stopped rail traffic until inspections were complete verifying that the Bluffs were safe for rail traffic to resume. Following this incident, NCTD has been asked what measures are being taken to ensure the stability and safety of the Bluffs and the rail line.
As background, coastal bluffs are formed through a combination of erosion from wind, sea spray, and crashing waves. Coastal bluffs are vulnerable to natural erosion. The Del Mar bluffs experience this natural erosion, along with erosion due to people walking on the Bluffs, preventing the growth of natural vegetation that would help protect them from natural erosion. Engineering studies completed by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the City of Del Mar’s Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan highlight the need for action to ensure the safe operations of passenger and freight rail service.
Per the Federal Railroad Administration, NCTD is responsible for ensuring the safety of operations for interstate freight, intercity rail, and commuter rail by conducting regular weekly inspections and maintenance activities. NCTD conducts special inspections of the rail line any time there is an earthquake or significant bluff failure. NCTD has engineering contracts in place that support these inspections and provision of analysis to ensure safety of operations.
In addition to inspections, NCTD, in collaboration with SANDAG, has developed and performed bluff stabilization since 1998 that has resulted in the completion of three bluff stabilization projects at a cost of approximately $5 million. NCTD is also currently advancing a new phase of projects that will be completed between 2019 and 2039 that are projected to cost up to $82 million. NCTD has requested additional funding via a federal BUILD Grant application to advance the Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization – Preserving Track-Bed Support Project for $17.9 million. NCTD has received a grant award that will fund the design and construction of fencing that will support re-vegetation and reduction in the occurrence of trespasser events. The fencing is projected to be constructed by the end of calendar year 2019. In advance of the fencing project, NCTD is adding new signage to further alert trespassers of the dangers of walking on the Bluffs.
From a long-range perspective, SANDAG, as the region’s metropolitan planning organization, has conducted preliminary studies and developed cost estimates for the construction of the Del Mar Tunnel which would remove the tracks from the Bluffs. This project is currently estimated to cost $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion in overall project expenditures and is currently unfunded. Accordingly, NCTD’s focus must be on ensuring the safety of current operations, which includes stabilization and maintenance of the Bluffs.
“The safety of our customers, operators, and the public is our top priority. The ongoing work to ensure these bluffs are stabilized for future years ranks very high on our state of good repair needs,” said Matthew Tucker, NCTD’s Executive Director. “We do not need to wait for a crisis to fund and construct improvements that will ensure the continued safe operations of this critical transportation infrastructure that is part of our state-wide and national transportation network.”