People hoping to take the train between Orange and San Diego counties are going to have to wait longer – possibly until February – for service to come back.

Service has been shut down since late September, after remnants of a hurricane sped up beach erosion that’s been causing a slow-moving landslide.

During public updates a few days later, officials said service should be up and running again starting early-to-mid November after repair work was completed.

But a few weeks later, in mid-October, they pushed back the re-opening to between mid-December and mid-January, saying it became clear “the work could not be completed that quickly.”

And this week, they pushed it back even further.

To February.

“While OCTA gave an initial estimate in early October, that was based on the information available following early conversations with geotechnical experts,” said Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman Eric Carpenter in a written response to Voice of OC’s questions.

“Once we hired the contractor, a more definitive timetable was determined based on the final design, and expedited efforts to secure permits and right of way,” he added.

There’s a possibility service will start sooner if there is no more track movement after half of the 90-day construction work is completed, Carpenter said.

The service outage affects as many as 5,000 residents who use the trains daily, as well as freight traffic.

It’s sparked California’s top transportation official to declare a state of emergency.

Officials have said Amtrak is providing limited bus service to replace the trains, while Metrolink has nothing for its riders.

County transportation officials have linked the erosion issues to climate change, and say a longer-term solution will eventually be needed – including potentially moving the tracks somewhere away from the ocean.

After last month’s recent storm surge and waves from the remnants of Hurricane Kay, twenty feet of beach sand “disappeared” in a week, said Jim Beil, who oversees capital projects at OCTA, at a public briefing in early October.

Underground measurements showed the ground was moving at an unsafe rate, he said.

That’s on top of an existing landslide – caused by beach erosion – moving the railroad tracks by 28 inches – something was discovered a year ago, prompting over 18,000 tons of large rocks (known as “riprap”) to be placed in the area.

OCTA officials said the second phase of the work should “stabilize the tracks for years.”

But officials acknowledge they likely will seek a longer-term solution – including potentially moving the tracks away from the ocean – as climate change continues to batter the coastline.

“It’s also clear that a more long-term solution is needed for the entire coastal region where tracks run near the coastline, with high tides, storm surges and the increasing effect of climate change,” OCTA staff said in written answers provided by Carpenter to Voice of OC last month.

“OCTA will continue to work with the community and its partners in the region and the state, and with subject experts, to find and advance those long-term solutions. That could include additional reinforcement or, eventually, relocation of tracks.”

Katrina Foley, a county supervisor and OCTA board member, has said the tracks may have to be moved as far inland as the 5 freeway.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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