On Saturday, April 13, 2019, representatives from state and local agencies as well a California State Senate office joined representatives and staff from the North County Transit District (NCTD) for an event highlighting the need for funding to stabilize the Del Mar bluffs (Bluffs and/or DMB). Invited guests met at the Powerhouse Park Community Center in Del Mar where they heard from NCTD Board Chair Tony Kranz and viewed a presentation by the San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) Principal Engineer Bruce Smith.
The speakers highlighted the history of Bluff stabilization projects, the current status of the Bluffs, and the future of the railway along this section of the corridor. NCTD, in collaboration with SANDAG, has developed and performed Bluff stabilization since 1998 that has resulted in the completion of three Bluff stabilization projects. During these projects in 2007 and 2009, more than 200 soldier piles (three-foot diameter concrete steel reinforced piles) were installed to aid in stabilization. For the next phase, Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project 4, NCTD will fund the repair of existing drainage structures and add a limited number of additional soldier piles. This project is expected to cost $3 million and construction is planned to begin in Fall 2019.
Coastal bluffs are formed through a combination of erosion from wind, sea spray, and crashing waves. The Del Mar Bluffs experience natural erosion, along with erosion due to people walking on the Bluffs, preventing the growth of natural vegetation that would help protect them from natural erosion. Engineering studies completed by SANDAG and the City of Del Mar’s Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan highlight the need for action to ensure the safe operations of passenger and freight rail service.
As the Bluffs retreat, NCTD and SANDAG recognize that additional stabilization will be necessary. Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project 5 and Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project 6 represent phased improvements that will add more piles and tiebacks, replace old drainage structures, consider bluff toe protection, and install lagging (a material that creates a support wall for the piles). These two phases of Bluff stabilization are expected to cost as much as $80 million.
“The preservation of the Bluffs is of utmost importance,” said NCTD Board Chair Tony Kranz. “This section of track is part of the LOSSAN corridor which is the second busiest intercity rail corridor in the United States, and vital to our economy for goods movement. It is important for our regional and state agencies to understand the need for funding for this state of good repair project that has national importance as a critical element of the interstate commerce network.”
Due to pre-scheduled work along the coastal corridor, trains were not running over the weekend of April 13 and 14. With the cessation of rail operations and railroad qualified safety escorts, the participants were provided the unique opportunity to see first-hand the current condition of the Bluffs.
“The guests of this event were given the chance to see parts of the Bluffs that are normally illegal for the public to access,” said Sean Loofbourrow, NCTD’s Chief of Safety and Security. “Stabilization of the Bluffs is vital to the future of the railroad; it was our pleasure to escort these decision-makers on a walking tour so that they could see the importance of the situation and have the opportunity to ask questions.”
During the past year, six bluff failures have been reported in the Del Mar Bluffs area. Each time a bluff failure occurs, NCTD annuls train traffic until inspections are complete verifying that the Bluffs are safe for regular rail operations.
On average, the Bluffs naturally will retreat on an average of six inches per year. Knowing that, NCTD and SANDAG are focused on being able to move forward with the planned stabilization projects that have been identified. In order to accomplish this in a timely manner, the agencies will continue to actively pursue all funding opportunities for these projects.
As the Bluffs continue to erode, it is important to remember that it is illegal and dangerous to trespass on NCTD property. NCTD’s top priority is to keep its customers, staff, and contractors safe as well as keeping the public safe by enforcing the no trespassing laws along the railroad right-of-way.