Repairs to OC Track Set to Begin with Amtrak Service Not Expected to Resume for 2 Months

Bulldozer on tracks
Bulldozer on tracks
A bulldozer works on the tracks in San Clemente. Courtesy LOSSAN agency

The Orange County Transportation Authority finalized a contract with a geo-technical firm to begin emergency work to stabilize railroad tracks, tentatively scheduled to begin this week.

OCTA will work with Condon-Johnson & Associates Inc. to perform the emergency stabilization work to safely restore passenger rail service as soon as possible from Los Angeles, through southern San Clemente and down to San Diego.

The current plan is to complete the work in one phase over approximately 90 days. Project engineers and geotechnical experts will continually monitor the slope next to the track during construction.

In partnership with all rail agencies, a decision will be made when passenger rail service can safely resume. Restoration could happen as soon as 60 days, in mid-December, or when the construction is expected to finish in mid-January, in 90 days.

Amtrak and MetroLink train service to San Diego County has been suspended since Sept. 30, after the storm surge from Tropical Storm Kay caused movement of the track north of Trestles Beach. A single BNSF freight train a day continues to run through the area, though at slower speeds.

After the suspension, officials had estimated that rail service would only be disrupted for 30-45 days.

The construction timeline is subject to change, depending on several factors, including right-of-way negotiations, permitting, securing necessary construction materials and inclement weather.

“We’re in uncharted territory with this emergency stabilization work and, as we’ve said all along, passenger safety is what guides all of our actions,” said OCTA Chairman Mark A. Murphy, also the Mayor of Orange. “We want this work to get done as soon as possible, but we first need to make sure it’s done right and the slope is secure.”

The contract with Condon-Johnson, with offices in Los Angeles and San Diego, comes days after the OCTA Board of Directors held an emergency meeting Oct. 3 to address the issue and unanimously voted to give CEO Darrell E. Johnson the authority to hire a firm and move forward with the emergency stabilization.

That track work will involve drilling large steel anchors approximately 100 feet long into the bedrock of the slope adjacent to the railroad track to prevent it from pushing the track further toward the ocean.

The track has moved as much as 28 inches over the last 13 months, due to storm surge and erosion on the coastal side and the gradually sliding hillside on the other.

Until the emergency work on the slope begins, contractors have continued to add large boulders, or riprap, to the coastal side to further secure the existing revetment.

OCTA is working with state and federal officials to secure necessary funding to pay for the emergency construction, estimated at $12 million. On the same day the OCTA board approved the emergency action, the California Transportation Commission met in a separate special session and approved $6 million in emergency funding.

OCTA owns the railroad right of way between Fullerton and the border of San Diego County. Metrolink and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner operate passenger rail service along the railroad through South Orange County.

In September 2021, heavy rain and storm surge caused movement along the track adjacent to the Cyprus Shore Homeowners Association in southern San Clemente.

At that time, Metrolink suspended passenger rail service through the area for about three weeks and stabilized the track movement by placing more than 18,000 tons of riprap along the coastal side.

While that emergency work stabilized the track for several months, geologists and engineers determined after additional storm surge last month that the adjacent slope was moving again.