By Noel T, Braymer
One thing railroads are good at is replacing tracks and bridges after floods and landslides. This will become more important as more extreme weather related issues take their toll where railroads and water are concerned. Work has begun to shore up the bluffs along the railroad in Del Mar. Recent heavy rains had soaked the bluffs and caused landslides near the railroad in Del Mar in recent months. These emergency repairs are needed in the short term, but in the long run a more permanent solution will be needed. The I-5 Freeway corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego is increasingly congested with traffic. Expanding rail service both for passengers and freight is needed in this corridor. As it stands now the tracks could be cut off in a matter of minutes due to a landslide. What is needed is a double track connection inland of the current right of way in Del Mar.
SANDAG, the planing agency for San Diego County is looking at several alternatives to double track and provide a secure right of way through Del Mar. One alternative is to put the tracks in a trench in the bluffs. This proposal didn’t go over well with the California Coastal Commission. Another solution being looked are 4 possible routes for a tunnel a mile inland from the coast which would be as much as 270 feet below the surface. The cost of such a tunnel has been estimated at $3.5 billion.
Another alternative would be to relocate the tracks in Del Mar in a cut and cover tunnel under Camino Del Mar which parallels the railroad but is inland from the current tracks. Camino Del Mar is also the busiest north-south road in Del Mar. Cut and cover construction is less expensive and less complicated than tunneling. It is also more disruptive to build than tunneling. Cut and Cover tunneling has been seen in construction on Crenshaw blvd for the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail line which is now nearly finished. Cut and Cover has been used in Los Angeles for other rail tunneling projects.
Del Mar is not the only bottleneck along the Coast. Most of the railroad in San Clemente is single tracked on several miles along the beach. The City of San Clemente insists that any double tracking or trains running above 40 miles per hour must be in a tunnel. Needless to say any double tracked tunneling in San Clemente will cost billions to build. The tracks in San Clemente are protected now from waves with a sea wall of large rocks. There is no telling what the future will bring with rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather. Not only are the tracks near the ocean, but they are just under large buffs which are prone to landslides as well in San Clemente.
Another area where the tracks are near the beach is between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Miles of this rail route is along the coast. Even in places where the ocean can’t be seen are less than 10 feet above sea level. Future storm surges could wash out the tracks in a matter of minutes in the area. Heavy rains flooded much of the Santa Barbara area over a year ago. Weather can be expected to become more extreme for the time being. Making needed improvements before nature destroys the existing outmoded infrastructure will be more cost effective and less disruptive than putting such necessary improvements off.
Another area of concern for future flooding are along the San Francisco Bay and up into the San Joaquin River Delta. These are subject to flooding and will be subject to rises in Ocean levels due to melting ice and raising water temperature. Not only does higher water temperatures melt ice, but also causes water to expand. What has been done in San Diego County as it has improved the 60 miles of County owned railroad along the coast is to replace old wooden single track bridges one at a time with new double tracked steel and concrete bridges. These new bridges are built higher than the bridges that they replaced and are better able to handle high water levels. There are still bridges that need replacing, but at one or two bridges at a time San Diego County have reduced the chances of bridges being washed out due to future storms. This will likely be needed in most places in California and around the world. Infrastructure is to often ignored and taken for granted. This is leading to a backlog of problems that will come crashing down in the future if nothing more is done.