Since 2019, the LOSSAN corridor from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, including a short, 7-mile stretch in Dana Point and San Clemente, has been deemed “essential.” LOSSAN’s Board consists of rail owners, operators and planning agencies, including the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), whose motto is “Keeping Orange County Moving” or “Keeping Orange County Moving Safely,” depending on the internet page. Repeatedly, the corridor is described as the “second busiest intercity passenger rail corridor in the United States.” One of the arguments for the “essential” nature of the rails has been national defense… Camp Pendleton might need to commandeer the trains.
So what happens when reality impinges on marketing slogans? In fact, at least one part of the LOSSAN “corridor,” has not been busy much at all since the start of the pandemic, when almost no one was riding trains. For eight of the last twelve months, on the tracks in Dana Point and San Clemente, trains have run irregularly and unreliably, and mostly not at all. Who relies on unreliable mass transit? No one who has to count on it. Ridership is so low that when the tracks were shut down, there was no impact on freeway traffic. So little freight was unable to move that the media had no need to report it. No supply chain crisis occurred… because that stretch of the “corridor” is, in fact, not essential.
The reality is that while parts of the “corridor” may be the second busiest, the busy intercity passenger demand doesn’t occur between San Diego and LA. Instead, commuters travel between south Orange County and LA and between Oceanside and San Diego. The reality is, if you were Commander of Camp Pendleton, you would commandeer an 8 to 12 lane freeway and not an endangered two-track railway leading to downtown Los Angeles.
Nevertheless, insanity has reigned on the tracks in Dana Point and San Clemente. In order to protect this “essential” route, OCTA has spent over $13 million and placed 26,000 tons of boulders on the beach side of the tracks—“hard armoring,” which is known by all to exacerbate sand erosion — while the California Coastal Commission, charged with protecting and restoring our coastline, turns a blind eye. OCTA has received approval for an additional $7 million in studies. Meanwhile, county and federal representatives are spending millions to replenish sand… sand that will continue to wash away from existing and additionally planned boulders. Representatives are justifiably beginning to consider a long-term solution; present estimates of a long-term solution underway in San Diego predict completion by 2035. If we allow the train special interests to keep adding boulders to the beaches for more than a decade, there will be no sand in 2035.
Worse: when soil becomes saturated with water, it loses the friction that holds it in place. Vibrations from trains encourage sodden soil to reorganize. Unsurprisingly, in the last year, multiple landslides occurred on coastal bluffs adjacent to tracks within weeks of the trains resuming their schedule. To stop the slide for a single property, San Clemente will spend $8.5 million. This coming winter, forecasted, heavy, El Niño rains suggest that San Clemente and Dana Point will again suffer multiple slides exacerbated by train vibrations. Such slides have the potential for enormous loss of life and property, the liability for which should sit squarely on the shoulders of every entity responsible for the train line. So much for Moving Orange County “Safely.”
Fighting Climate Change is smart. Trying to preserve a piece of a nonessential, doomed “corridor” at the cost of tens of millions while sacrificing bluffs, beaches and coastline is not. Stop this manmade, environmental disaster. Stop running trains through Dana Point and San Clemente. Before it’s too late.
Laurie Girand is an 18-year resident of San Juan Capistrano, a former candidate for Assembly District 74 and a member of Capo Cares, an advocacy group for the community of Capistrano Beach in the City of Dana Point. Since 2014, Capo Cares has followed issues of interest to community members, such as coastal erosion, beautification, public health and safety, local politics and arts and cultural events. The group updates the community via periodic newsletters and daily postings at www.Facebook.com/capocares.
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