Amtrak has once again suspended train service along the second-busiest rail corridor in the country due to the human impact on coastal erosion. Pacific Surfliner service between San Diego and Los Angeles has been severely impacted, with canceled trains and replacement bus service between Irvine and Oceanside due to coastal erosion in San Clemente where the tracks run right along the coast. The changes were announced Friday, about three weeks before a planned service expansion, and are in effect “until further notice.”
Regional rail operated by MetroLink is also impacted. Its statement cites “continued movement to the right of way in the San Clemente area” that requires the shutdown to “ensure passenger safety.”
The emergency repairs come almost precisely one year after coastal erosion in the same area shut down the important rail line for two weeks. Amtrak did not immediately respond to a Motherboard inquiry as to whether it is the exact same section of track, and if so, what measures are being taken to prevent this from being an annual occurrence. The Los Angeles Times reported heavy rains from Tropical Storm Kay battered the coast with unusually high winds and surf, adding to the erosion.
“Until we have confirmation from the experts the slope movement has stopped, we will not resume Metrolink service,” Metrolink’s statement said.
As Motherboard reported last year, coastal erosion along the Surfliner route is the result of human changes to the natural environment through extensive development and potentially climate change as well. Rivers replenish the coastline with sediment, but many of those rivers have been dammed. Seawalls with rocks and boulders support clifftop houses with ocean views, but rocks are less effective against erosion than sand. Homes along beaches with watered lawns also contribute to erosion through over-watering. And climate change, through higher sea levels, more intense storms, and bigger waves erode the vulnerable beaches and cliffs faster.
The Surfliner/MetroLink closure is just one of many examples of critical transportation infrastructure being more difficult to operate and maintain due to the way humans have altered the natural world, especially through climate change. Increasingly intense heat waves, particularly in areas not used to them, melt roads and warp train tracks.
Elsewhere along the Pacific Surfliner route, San Diego’s regional planning authority is spending $300 million to study a new rail tunnel so trains no longer traverse the Del Mar bluffs which collapsed in March 2021 shutting down the trains and triggering emergency repairs.
Last year, Bob Guza, professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego told Motherboard regarding the Amtrak closure, “Despite large uncertainty owing to both statistical fluctuations and scientific ignorance, I predict with confidence—a slow-rolling erosion shitstorm is coming to coastal SoCal. In fact, it already started.”
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