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Good-bye, easy walking to Del Mar beach

Fencing to be built along train tracks on bluffs

In Del Mar alone, there have been eight fatalities and 14 incidents since 2014.
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.

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In Del Mar alone, there have been eight fatalities and 14 incidents since 2014.
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.

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Comments
4
This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.
Sept. 28, 2020

Like just about every story on this issue this one does a very bad job of examining the risks posed by the tracks. The NCTD numbers, which this reporter takes verbatim, fails to separate suicides from accidents. The vast majority of deaths are suicides and fencing will not stop that. I've been crossing the tracks and walking the bluffs for 40 years and somehow I've survived. Not a single surfer has ever been killed. And Visduh's long winded "history" misses the point. NCTD should not have the right to wall off the beach. And I would encourage reporters in the future to examine the number the agency cites. They have been lying for years and the media just sucks it up.

Sept. 29, 2020

Hi, 1DelMartian. Very clever of you to make your comment a reply to a removed comment, and put it ahead of mine. My comment (below) is accurate. Nobody has "been lying" about the hazards of railroad trespassing. And the NCTD does have the right to fence off its tracks, i.e. right of way. It is, like all rail lines in the nation, private property. You may have been scampering across the tracks and walking the bluffs for 40 years, and it's likely that you have never been even close to a train. Unfortunately, some 13-14-15 year old with a new board will try the same thing and, after hours on the water and very tired could, heading for home, walk out just when a train comes through. Result: tragedy. There have been a number of such incidents along the line, although none of them were necessarily on the Del Mar bluffs. Does it take a fatality to make a case for safety measures? Get it into your surfer head that the railroad isn't going anywhere else in my lifetime (or yours) and that trains are most unforgiving when a pedestrian tangles with one. (Three paragraphs are "long winded?")

Sept. 29, 2020

This piece does a good job of summing up the picture of the rails, the eroding bluffs, and the situation that Del Mar residents have in wanting to get down to the beach. The present conditions are most unsafe, but in recent years the city has excoriated NCTD from enforcing the no trespassing laws. Seems that those uber-affluent Del Martians just want to risk life and limb to access the beach with no repercussions.

Never mind that Del Mar sprang up from a station stop on the Santa Fe "surf line" into San Diego from the north. That came around 1880-90, and since then the rails have been atop the unstable and rapidly eroding bluffs. To let that area collapse and block the line would be utterly unacceptable. That single track accommodates 12 Amtrak trains a day in each direction, a large number of Coaster runs, and several freights that serve the port and Tijuana. Something has gotta give for sure, but that doesn't mean that a $5 billion tunnel can appear overnight and enable track relocation. (Nobody has the means to finance that sort of public works project.)

Del Mar has for years decided to treat the track as some sort of illegitimate occupant of its coastline. (Never mind that the rails were there first.) And so, it refuses to do anything to coexist with the railroad. Over the years since about 1970, when the traffic really started to grow, Del Mar had the ability and opportunity to construct pedestrian overpasses. In the early days those could have been built cheaply and could still serve well. But the deep-pockets crowd in Del Mar didn't want to spend anything that "helped" the railroad, and they didn't lift a finger to make pedestrian crossings safer. No, it was 'way more fun to allow the surf rats to play chicken with the many high-speed trains. And so, there are the many fatalities cited.

Sept. 28, 2020

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