Pacific Surfliner faces uncertain future as erosion threatens route

Several disruptions in recent years have caused the number of passengers along the scenic coastal Amtrak route to cut in half.

The Pacific Surfliner train likely needs to relocate inland in order to avoid falling into the ocean, a proposition that would cost billions of dollars. 

But California is faced with the issue at hand, given that the train route near San Clemente was shut down from January to March due to a landslide caused by erosion. 


The backstory: The 351-mile route that runs from San Diego to San Luis Obispo is the second most popular Amtrak route in the United States. 

  • With the track being located along the coast for much of the route, the Surfliner has had to shut down at least a dozen times in the last six years. 
  • The first issue that shut down the route in San Clemente was a landslide in 2021, leading crews to install steel anchors 100 feet deep. 
  • Just one year later the Orange County Transportation Authority had to shore up the coast with hundreds of boulders as erosion shifted the tracks 28 inches closer to the ocean. 
  • The section that runs through Del Mar has shut down seven times since 2018 due to erosion. 

The big picture: A number of proposals are on the table to make the route safer against future erosion, including moving several miles of vulnerable track in Del Mar and San Clemente, a cost that would be in the billions. 

  • Those plans face opposition, especially in Del Mar, since the proposal would send the train on tunnels under homes. 

State of play: Amtrak hit a record number of passengers on the Pacific Surfliner in 2017 at three million. 

  • But a number of different issues have disrupted service over the past several years, leading to 1.5 million passengers in Amtrak’s last fiscal year. 
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