Transit district slashes fence on Del Mar railroad, amid continued protests


The North County Transit District released new information this week to show that its plans to install a fence along the railroad tracks in Del Mar will have minimal effects on beach access and views from homes blufftop.

Yet the maps, visual simulations and other data Presented by district consultants, CivilPros, a national engineering consulting firm, seems unlikely to influence residents of Del Mar, who have fought fencing since the district proposed the idea in the 1990s. They say that the fence is not necessary because people have learned to look for trains and cross the tracks safely or to walk on the paths beside the tracks.

“The sketches I saw yesterday would be devastating for our entire region if they progressed,” Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland said in an email Thursday October 14th.

“Fencing doesn’t solve the problems they say they want to solve,” she said. “And it will be terrible to lose that last accessible stretch of coastal cliff in San Diego County with its vistas and trails.”

The district announced in October 2020 that it would build a 6-foot chain link fence by the end of the year along the right-of-way on both sides of the trail from Coast Boulevard to the North Torrey Pines Bridge, a distance of about 1.7 miles.

Residents of Del Mar were outraged and the plan was blocked for further negotiations with the city. Hundreds of people have written to the NCTD board to oppose the fence. So far, no contracts have been awarded for the construction of the fence, and construction is unlikely until at least next year.

Earlier this year, the transit district announced plans to reduce the overall length of the fence from 12,960 feet to 5,698 feet, lower some sections from 6 feet to 4 feet high, and replace some sections of the style. chain links by a lower and more aesthetic. nice pole and cable design. The revisions also moved the chain link fence from parts of the upper cliff face and down to runway level where it will be out of sight of coastal houses.

NCTD consultants will present the latest information on the fence at the city council meeting on Monday October 18 in Del Mar and again at the NCTD board meeting on Thursday October 21.

The most recent plan has a 4 foot high, four strand, post and wire fence instead of the chain link fence along the top of the cliff to the east of the trail on nearly a mile from Ninth Street South to Fourth Street.

“This fence is not necessary,” Gaasterland said. “No one fell from the upper cliff where the trail is wide and the dense vegetation provides a natural boundary.”

Transit officials say the fence will improve safety and reliability as the trains on the route continue to increase. The Coaster commuter service runs an average of 22 trains per week day between Oceanside and San Diego, a total that is expected to increase to 44 trains per week day by 2025, according to a report from district staff.

Adding to the need for safety, the district purchased new Coaster locomotives which entered service this year and are quieter, more fuel efficient, and potentially faster than previous 30-year-old engines. This makes the trains harder to hear coming, especially around a curve on the cliffs of Del Mar and when the locomotive is pushing instead of pulling the train.

Amtrak, which operates passenger trains, and BNSF, which operates freight trains, also plan to increase service on the only rail link between San Diego and Los Angeles.

The Orange County Metrolink commuter train, which does not go further south than Oceanside, may start to travel to San Diego for special events under a recent deal with NCTD. In total, the San Diego County rail corridor could accommodate 100 trains per day by 2030, according to the NCTD.

Encinitas board member Tony Kranz, chairman of the NCTD board, said the agency had gone the extra mile to keep Del Mar residents happy while keeping the railroad safe.

“We have taken a step back (…) and made a smart investment to show that we can work with a community to address their concerns,” Kranz said on Friday, Oct. 15. “The new design does exactly that.”

The revised plan has less of an effect on views and allows people to continue to use the trails parallel to the tracks, while improving safety, he said.

“There is no doubt that there is a different safety threshold for every height and every material,” Kranz said. “The safest approach would be to build a 50 foot high cinder block wall. Even then, a surfer would come with his 50 foot ladder. “

Walking on the adjacent tracks or right-of-way is considered trespassing by the transit district, although tickets are rarely, if ever, issued.

The only long-term solution is to move the railroad off the coast, Kranz said.

NCTD is working with the San Diego Association of Governments on a plan for an interior tunnel through Del Mar, but construction is at least a decade away and will cost billions of dollars. Preliminary studies are underway, but so far no money has been allocated for construction.

Until there is a new route, the agencies will try to keep the trails safe where they are.

“The modified fence plan provides a security barrier that currently does not exist, while minimizing visual impact and maintaining access,” NCTD Executive Director Matt Tucker said via email on Thursday the 14th. October.

“This represents a significant improvement in safety and provides a barrier for users of trails they should not cross,” said Tucker. “This is part of a comprehensive effort along the corridor to promote rail safety and reliability. We’ve worked to address concerns from the Del Mar community and the California Coastal Commission as we make significant safety improvements. “

The transit district received a $ 1.3 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration in 2018 to install additional fencing as a strategy to reduce trespassing, injuries, fatalities and train delays. The average delay when a train stops for an “important event” such as a death is two hours, according to a report from district staff.

Rail traffic has been increasing for decades with the growth of the San Diego County suburban rail system, as well as pedestrian fatalities, injuries and near misses.

Del Mar recorded an average of one train-related death per year from 2016 to 2020, according to the district. In one case, a person was struck while walking along the tracks with headphones on, and in another, a person was struck by a freight train while trying to take a ‘selfie’ on the tracks. cliffs.

Railroad tracks are fenced in most areas of San Diego County. Del Mar, where the slopes are closest to the ocean, is one of the few areas that still has no barriers.

The construction of the fence would normally require approval of certain items such as building permits by the city, the Coast Commission and other jurisdictions.

In an attempt to avoid any issues with these approvals, the transit district filed a “declaratory order petition” with the Federal Surface Transport Council in August 2020, asking it to relinquish state and local permits for the project.

Del Mar and the Coast Commission have both opposed the request, and so far the board has not taken a decision on the petition.

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