Some weekend train service between Orange County and San Diego County is scheduled to resume starting Saturday, Feb. 4 after coastal erosion forced the tracks to close in September.

Amtrak weekend service is slated to resume on that date, though all weekday and Metrolink service is scheduled to remain shut down until around the end of March, according to an Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) announcement this week.

The closure stems from coastal erosion in San Clemente, where remnants of a hurricane sped up a slow-moving landslide where the railroad tracks sit.

The original reopening date was in November. But it’s since been pushed back to December, and then to February and now March for weekday and Metrolink service.

“Even with the recent heavy rain and high tides, our approach to this project has proven effective in keeping the track from moving and we’re pleased to announce that passenger service can safely resume on weekends,” said OCTA Chairman Gene Hernandez, who also is the mayor of Yorba Linda, in a news release.

“I want to thank the public for their patience and I hope everyone can understand that ensuring passenger safety guides all of our actions.”

A Santa Ana resident who’s been commuting by train for years to north San Diego County says the forced switch to driving has been awful.

“The drive now, especially the evening drive, is killing me!” the resident said in an email to a Voice of OC reporter.

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

OCTA 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 a September storm surge and waves from the remnants of Hurricane Kay, 20 feet of beach sand “disappeared” in a week, said Jim Beil, who oversees capital projects at OCTA, at a public briefing in early October.

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

But officials acknowledge they need a long-term plan – 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 a spokesman to Voice of OC..

“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, an Orange County supervisor representing coastal south OC who also is on the OCTA board member, said the tracks may have to be moved inland past the 5 freeway.

Foley told Voice of OC this week she plans to convene a panel of scientific experts to study the issue and recommend long-term fixes.

“Now that the railroad tracks are deemed safe for passenger service, it is time we seriously consider investing in science-based solutions to prevent these issues from inevitably happening again,” she said in a statement.

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

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