OCTA, Metrolink and State/local Partners move forward with barrier wall to protect rail line from landslide

Feb. 6, 2024
In response to a recent landslide in the OCTA service area, the agency is moving forward with plans for a barrier wall to protect tracks from sliding land in San Clemente near the Mariposa pedestrian bridge.

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and Metrolink project team will be moving forward with plans to build a barrier wall to protect tracks from sliding land in San Clemente near the Mariposa pedestrian bridge (Milepost 204.2). 

The decision to builld a barrier wall – which came a day after the state of California declared an official emergency –  was in response to a landslide on private property above the city-owned by Mariposa Trail Pedestrian Bridge, which caused major damage to the bridge and scattered debris onto the track, forcing a rail line closure through San Clemente on the evening of Jan. 24. 

The OCTA and Metrolink decision to build a barrier wall was made in consultation with the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), BNSF and the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency, which operates the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner service through the area. 

OCTA notes restoring limited passenger rail service during construction of the wall could be an option but no timeline for letting passenger trains run again has been determined at this point. 

“I’m tremendously appreciative to all of our partnering rail agencies and, of course, to the state, for the partnership and working together to deal with the emergency and pursue a solution to restore service,” said OCTA CEO Darrell E. Johnson. “We all know how vital this rail line is for Orange County and for the region.” 

In response to a letter from Johnson, Caltrans declared an official emergency, clearing the way for up to $10 million in funding to address the emergency. Details on the scope of work for the barrier wall, approvals and funding still need to be finalized but the mutual agreement on building a barrier wall provides clarity on the path forward and will help expedite the process. 

“As we have faced these challenges along the San Clemente coastline, I appreciate the collaborative efforts of Metrolink, OCTA, BNSF, LOSSAN, the state of California and local officials,” said Metrolink CEO Darren Kettle. “The hard work and expertise of the project team is truly astounding to ensure safe rail travel.” 

The most recent rail closure in San Clemente is the fifth time in the last three years passenger rail service has been forced to stop because of eroding bluffs in San Clemente pushing toward the LOSSAN rail line. 

OCTA is currently leading an effort to study solutions for protecting the track through about seven miles of coastal Orange County for the next 30 years. At the same time, OCTA is working with local, state and federal partners to study longer-term solutions to protect the track for generations to come. 

At the emergency site near Mariposa Point, crews are continuing to monitor and inspect the slope and hillside. Soil movement has slowed significantly since the Jan. 24 slide but continues. 

The emergency work area and the private slope above have been covered with plastic tarps and drainage improvements have been made to try to prevent further soil movement, especially with more heavy rain expected. Crews will remain on site throughout the impending storms. 

OCTA, which owns the track, worked with partners at Metrolink and contractors to quickly mobilize emergency crews, who used heavy machinery on the rails to remove debris and haul away two large spans of the bridge, each weighing 24,000 pounds. 

During the past three years, San Clemente’s eroding bluffs – on both city and private property – have repeatedly forced the closure of the rail line, which has operated largely uninterrupted for more than 125 years.