In Del Mar alone, there have been eight fatalities and 14 incidents since 2014.
There's only one place to cross the railway legally to get to the beach in Del Mar. But instead of adding more safe crossings, transit officials want to add 1.4 miles of fencing along the bluffs starting this fall.
And that means making sure the city of Del Mar and the California Coastal Commission stay out of the way.
Del Mar wants the priority to be moving the rail inland.
The fencing plan was shot down by the city council in November, 2018 over concerns about public access, and the North County Transit District fears more opposition. So the agency, which owns the railroad and adjacent right-of-way, has requested a federal “declaratory order” that would remove local control over the bluff and tracks.
The petition, filed August 28, names the city of Del Mar and the Coastal Commission as parties. It would give the transit district veto authority over objections to its work on the coaster commuter rail line that runs north and south along the coast between Oceanside and San Diego.
"This will be a great loss for the entire community — cutting off beach access for thousands of people, ruining the landscape, and creating safety risk for anyone caught inside the fence," says a change.org petition started by a Del Mar resident.
Rail bed after slide, November, 2019
Transit officials say it's essential for public safety, and providing uninterrupted service. Fencing projects in Encinitas and Oceanside have been recommended by the agency.
Trespassers are common in the right-of-way along the bluffs, resulting in accidents and deaths. According to the agency, there have been 112 fatalities and 174 incidents on the coaster commuter rail line since 2010. In Del Mar alone, there have been eight fatalities and 14 incidents since 2014.
Overall, the county is in ninth place for the highest number of rail casualties in the U.S. The Federal Railroad Administration attributes it mainly to the convenience of trespassing and lack of fencing or enforcement.
Emergency storm repairs on bluffs, December, 2019
Behind the fence fight looms a battle over the bluffs. According to the San Diego Association of Governments, the Del Mar bluffs average about six inches of erosion per year due to storm and irrigation runoff and sea rise. Del Mar wants the priority to be moving the rail inland.
Last November, emergency stabilization of the bluffs was required after collapses due to heavy rains. The city jumped in, seeking review by the Coastal Commission, which the transit district says "would impose sweeping mitigation requirements on NCTD and the eventual relocation of the existing railroad line, and potentially the construction of a multibillion dollar underground tunnel."
Repairs in process
The petition cites the city council's rejection of safety fencing. "NCTD justifiably is concerned that a similar federal consistency review or Coastal Act challenge to this fencing project is forthcoming,"
Adding to the tension, the agency is planning two more major bluff stabilization projects in Del Mar in the near term. These and other crucial maintenance projects, they say, "will be challenged under the Coastal Act or local coastal laws by Del Mar or the Commission."
The city has until October 5 to reply to the petition and submit comments to the Surface Transportation Board.