Illegal crossing in Oceanside (in foreground), 400 feet south of legal underpass
The North County Transit District held off on plans to install the Del Mar portion of its rail corridor fencing last fall due to intense opposition, but as the year begins, the waiting is over.
Construction is imminent, city officials say. On Monday (Jan 11), transit district staff told the city council why the six-foot tall chain-link fencing that will run along both sides of the tracks for 1.5 miles, from the south end of Del Mar to Coast Boulevard, is so badly needed.
"We have an obligation to mitigate the risk," said Tony Kranz, transit district board chair and deputy mayor of Encinitas, one of three cities that were part of a safety study now in its final phase. Encinitas, Oceanside, and Del Mar were chosen for their high incidence of trespassing compared to other locations along the corridor.
The cities had a total of 33 pedestrian strikes (suicides, accidental deaths or injuries) between 2015 and 2019. Del Mar was found to be the busiest section of the railroad for pedestrian crossings. In the worst area, Coast Blvd to 8th Street, 11 people were killed, the report noted.
According to city reports, residents and visitors cross at different points during all hours of the day. There is only one legal at-grade crossing in the city, at 15th Street north of the bluff area.
Lurae Stuart, WSP USA manager for transit and rail safety and security, said the main reason for trespassing isn't suicide or attempts to harm the system, but people trying to get to the beach or businesses. (WSP USA is a partner for California's high-speed rail systems.)
As residents already know. the transit district owns the railroad that runs through Del Mar and the adjacent right-of-way, but residents spoke about the loss of a familiar path to the coast.
"It has been an implied easement," said Brad Becker in a letter to the city, "And now comes along the NCTD with an absurd idea of imprisoning the community with a 1.4 mile fence."
Stuart warned that with nothing restricting access, no one out there to detect who's on the system, and a lack of legal crossings, the danger is growing. The trains are increasing in number. They move at 50-90 mph, are quieter than ever, and take a long time to stop.
Sean Loofbourrow, chief of safety and security for the North County Transit District, said newer charger locomotives are about half as loud as previous trains. "Arguments have been, we can see it, we can avoid it. But it will be increasingly hard, especially at night. The incidents have been creeping further south than we've seen before. The risk is from end to end."
The study recommends first a fence. This should be combined with frequent and clear signage, legal crossings, intrusion detection devices, and education. The estimated minimum cost to fence the entire study corridor and add signs is $1.7 million.
Currently, the study doesn't show maps where WSP is proposing fencing. Nor did it determine how many people cross the tracks daily, but officials said that when they were in the corridor, they saw a lot of trespassing.
One caller, Laura Demarco, said the fence creates more risk. Over 1400 post holes, three-feet deep, one foot wide, every 10 feet, will puncture the bluff. Water intrusion from the hillside plus rainwater will greatly undermine the crumbling bluffs.
Transit officials said no geological survey has been done, but there's a lot of data from all the ongoing work to stabilize the bluffs.
The city unanimously approved an agreement with the San Diego Association of Governments and North County Transit District for a safe crossings study that will kick off February 21 and take 18 months to complete. Overpasses will be considered as well as at-grade crossings. And since many people use the paths adjacent to the tracks for recreation, the study will look at the lateral use of the railway to plan safe trail access as well.
"We need access to the bluffs and beach, we need to cross the tracks," said council member Dave Druker. "I've been waiting for this for 25 years now."