San Clemente Landslide Forces San Diego Rail to Halt Again

Increased Slope Movement Prompts Freight Rail Suspension Through Wednesday
California UP train cars
Freight train cars sit in a Union Pacific rail yard in Commerce, Calif. (Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

Freight trains to and from the Port of San Diego were suspended again the night of Feb. 6 by a slow-moving landslide that threatens the tracks at San Clemente, Calif.

“The project team confirms the slope has moved between 1.5 and 3 feet in the last 24 hours,” said Scott Johnson, Metrolink director of communications, late the afternoon of Feb. 6.

Debris at the toe of the slope is nearing the railroad right-of-way and could be on the tracks in the next few hours, he said.

“We have informed BNSF ... there will be no trains tonight,” Johnson said. “Tomorrow there will be (more) inspections, and the project team will start evaluating whether they can move the debris, or whether moving it might trigger anything else on the hillside.”

Passenger service has been suspended since the slide damaged the Mariposa Pedestrian Bridge on Jan. 24, sending debris onto the tracks. The city closed parts of the pedestrian trail that parallels the tracks about a week earlier, after movement was detected in the hillside.

On Feb. 5, an engineering team installed an array of tilt sensors and a camera to monitor the hillside. Since then, the equipment has documented increasing movement, as heavy rain drenched the region.

Nearby San Juan Capistrano recorded almost 5 inches of rain in the 48 hours ending at 4 p.m. Feb. 6, according to the National Weather Service. Off-and-on rain throughout the region could continue through Feb. 10.


How does hydrogen fuel cell technology fit into freight transportation? Find out with Parker Meeks, the CEO of Hyzon, a company that designs and manufactures fuel cell technology for heavy-duty transport applications. Tune in above or by going to  

Officials from the Orange County Transportation Authority, Metrolink, the city of San Clemente and other agencies meet daily to evaluate the conditions at the slide, Johnson said. They present their information to BNSF, and BNSF decides daily whether the tracks are safe.

BNSF officials appear reluctant to discuss the track situation. A spokesperson for the company confirmed last week that trains were running, but declined to answer questions about cargo, the size of trains, and more.

Generally, freight trains are allowed through between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., when it’s dark and no repair work is underway on the slope. Freight trains can have 50 or more cars, while passenger trains usually have four to six cars.

Last week, two large sections of the damaged bridge were removed, rocks and a drainage culvert were added to the slope, and the hillside was graded and covered with plastic tarps.

OCTA and Metrolink officials said Feb. 2 they plan to build a barrier wall to protect the tracks while repairs are finished on the landslide above the tracks.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info:

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC