The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board of Directors on Monday, June 12, gave the green light for roughly $7.6 million to be spent on two projects concerning railroad tracks in San Clemente.
An estimated $5.2 million will fund efforts to construct a temporary soldier pile retaining wall on OCTA’s right-of-way at the bottom of the slope near the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens—where recent landslides have caused debris to fall on the track.
Additionally, nearly $2.2 million will go towards a contract change order regarding ongoing stabilization work on the railroad near Cyprus Shore in South San Clemente.
Acting with urgency to address the Casa Romantica landslides, the board authorized OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson to enter into contracts and agreements to procure equipment, services and supplies. By declaring an emergency condition exists, OCTA can bypass language in the Public Contract Code that requires a competitive bid process.
“The City (of San Clemente) does not have a plan or timeline to stabilize the landslide,” OCTA said in staff report. “This emergency resolution is necessary to provide protection of the railroad tracks and to allow all rail services to resume as soon as possible.”
Jim Beil, OCTA’s executive director of Capital Programs, told the board there is an extended period of risk posed to the tracks as the City of San Clemente works to design a long-term solution.
In the meantime, the agency and Metrolink have been cooperating to assess the landslide to develop protective measures.
Following the major landslides on April 27 and June 5, Beil noted there is still movement in the slope, which is largely composed of clay and beach sand. Those materials combine for “exceptionally low cohesiveness,” Beil said, adding that water is also coming out of the slope on the north side of the landslide.
“(The measures) include the construction of a temporary barrier wall at the bottom of the slope within OCTA’s right-of-way, which would protect the railroad track and operations from any additional landslide debris, should it come down,” Beil said.
Metrolink has begun the process of procuring a contractor to design and build the wall as soon as possible, he added.
According to information from Metrolink, the cost estimate “includes costs going back to the initial notification of the landslide, and includes all the design and construction and support services.”
OCTA spokesperson Eric Carpenter spoke with the San Clemente Times about the resolution.
“OCTA will continue working with Metrolink and will report back to the OCTA Board of Directors at each meeting to discuss updated cost estimates and seek ongoing approval of the emergency declaration, as needed,” Carpenter wrote in an email. “OCTA continues to work with all local, state and federal partners to seek available funding options to pay for the necessary solutions to protect the track.”
Before the board unanimously approved the item, board member and Fifth District Board Supervisor Katrina Foley emphasized the need to get the railroad “back on track” and said the wall may be the only hope to protect the track in the interim.
“It used to be that when I’d wake up in late spring or the summer and it would be raining, I would think, ‘Oh, great, we get some rain and that’ll help with the drought,’” said Foley. “Now, I go outside, and I think, ‘Oh no, what’s going to happen with the sliding hillsides?’”
Regarding the ongoing work near Cyprus Shore, Beil said OCTA expects construction to conclude by the end of June, if not by the first week of July.
The board approved the nearly $2.18 million contract change order (CCO), as well as a $307,500 purchase of a half-acre of water as required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
“(The CCO) covers several changes and challenges that were encountered during construction, including additional length of tiebacks that we put in and additional strands included in each of the tiebacks, for more holding power,” said Beil.
It also pays for additional analysis, quality control, testing, special inspection and observation, as well as services to design a soil nail shoring system to protect a storm drain.
Work on the site dates back to late 2021, when 18,000 tons of riprap, or large boulders, were placed against the track after a nearby slope failed in September 2021.
OCTA staff was notified that additional mitigation measures were needed in September 2022, and the board authorized a $12 million project to provide emergency track stabilization the next month.
Construction began in November, during which crews drove metal anchors into the slope to prevent the tracks from being pushed towards the ocean. Despite numerous delays because of heavy rainfall in early 2023, all tieback drilling was completed on April 11 and Metrolink and Amtrak subsequently resumed weekday passenger rail service.
The USACE’s permit required for placing riprap below the mean high tide line also necessitated the agency to purchase reestablished waters of U.S. river credits from the San Luis Rey Mitigation Bank in San Diego County, which monitors the San Luis Rey River that influences much of San Clemente.
Passenger rail service through the city, from Oceanside to Irvine, is still suspended indefinitely following the latest landslide at Casa Romantica on June 5.
Metrolink’s weekday service will travel as far south as the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station, and trains will go to the San Juan Capistrano station on weekends.