Rail service on San Clemente tracks suspended for fifth time in three years due to landslide

Jan. 29, 2024
OCTA and Metrolink are working to clear the tracks after debris from the hillside slope along the Mariposa Trail Bridge in San Clemente had fallen onto the right of way and rail line Jan. 24.

On Jan. 24, service stopped on the rail line in San Clemente, Calif., after debris from the hillside slope along the Mariposa Trail Bridge in San Clemente had fallen onto the right of way and rail line. 

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is working with Metrolink to clear the tracks and safely restore passenger and freight rail service as quickly as possible. No timeline has been set for service resuming.  

“We clearly understand how important this rail line is for the people who rely on it and we are committed to working with our partners, both to get it up and safely running again and to protect this rail corridor for years to come,” said OCTA Chair Tam T. Nguyen. “Throughout California, we continue to see natural threats to our transportation system and our challenge as leaders is to come together and focus on lasting solutions for future generations.” 

The suspension of service on the rail line is the fifth service interruption in the past three years.  

Two weeks prior to the Jan. 24 incident, the same landslide forced the city of San Clemente to close its popular Mariposa Point pedestrian bridge. That city-owned bridge is now crumbling toward the track. Work to remove it from OCTA’s rail right-of-way is underway and is the first step in determining the best course of action to safely resume service through the area.  

Because of the recent bluff failures and impacts on the rail line from eroding city, county and state beaches, OCTA has laid out a phased approach to continue operating service with minimal interruptions. 

As part of this effort, OCTA is working on two initiatives: 

  1. The Orange County Coastal Rail Resiliency Study – is evaluating strategies to ensure uninterrupted rail operations, including a detailed analysis of seven miles of critical coastal track between Dana Point and San Clemente at the San Diego County line. The objective of the short- to medium-term study is to help ensure uninterrupted rail operations for the next 30 years. The first technical stakeholder meeting was held last week and a series of listening sessions are planned during the next several months with a wide variety of partners, stakeholders and the public to gather input. 
  2. The second study will look longer term at a potential rail line relocation along the coast to an inland alignment between San Juan Capistrano and San Onofre State Beach, spanning 11 miles. Most of the rail line in the study area is approximately 200 feet or less from the coastline in south Orange County. The rail line is vulnerable to catastrophic failure due to changing environmental conditions and coastal erosion, rendering it inoperable for extended periods. OCTA has held conversations with the state and formally requested help in developing a long-term plan, including finding necessary funding.  

Metrolink has suspended service south of the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station and is advising passengers to make alternate travel arrangements until service can be restored. Pacific Surfliner is offering bus bridges between Irvine and Oceanside during the closure. 

About the Author

Brandon Lewis | Associate Editor

Brandon Lewis is a recent graduate of Kent State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lewis is a former freelance editorial assistant at Vehicle Service Pros.com in Endeavor Business Media’s Vehicle Repair Group. Lewis brings his knowledge of web managing, copyediting and SEO practices to Mass Transit Magazine as an associate editor.