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Climate and Environment

Trains And Buses Between South OC And Oceanside Have Been Suspended Because Of Coastal Erosion

A huge wave hits a rocky bluff
Large waves pound the San Diego coastline on January 12, 2021.
(Sean M. Haffey
Getty Images)
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Last week, Amtrak and Metrolink announced that cliffside train service between southern Orange County and Oceanside has been paused due to unstable cliffs.

Metrolink spokesperson Paul Gonzales said the closures were instituted after Metrolink found the terrain around the tracks had moved since the year prior. Metrolink's Orange Line between Los Angeles and Oceanside is affected, as is the Inland Empire-Orange County line. Bus connections also aren't running.

"I want to stress that we believe that at the time we were running the trains, conditions were safe to run passenger trains," Gonzales said on KPCC's AirTalk this morning. "We are part of a natural environment, and the earth moves. Our task now is to stabilize and return our tracks where they need to be."

He said workers would bring in riprap rocks to try to secure the land around the rail line. Crews expect trains to resume services by October 4.

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The threat erosion poses to infrastructure is an issue along several stretches of California's 840-mile coastline — and the problem is likely to become more severe due to climate change.

Gary Griggs, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz, said over time, the shoreline is moving inward because of sea level rise, storms and other weather events.

Although more than a third of Southern California's coastline has been armored with sea walls and rocks to try to slow the effects of erosion, according to Griggs, these measures will only ensure stability for a few years. He added that some roads can be moved inland to protect them but others aren't easy to relocate.

"This is probably the biggest challenge human civilization has ever had to face. The challenge of how we deal with [sea level rise] is something we'll be facing for decades into the future," he said.

a narrow bridge crosses a canyon above a rocky beach
View of the Bixby Creek Bridge on the Big Sur coast of California, on August 1, 2020.
(Daniel Slim
AFP via Getty Images)

California began a costly and intensive rebuild of scenic Highway 1 after a stretch of it collapsed in late January. A few months later and hundreds of miles south, authorities in Del Mar closed rail services for weeks in order to stabilize the area's bluffs and prevent collapse. But rebuilding won't be an option forever.

"The question is, how long do we stabilize?" Griggs said. "Over the long run, and I'm talking decades to hundreds of years, there's nothing we can do to stop the Pacific Ocean from moving inland. Essentially, sea levels are rising, and we're in the way."

What questions do you have about Southern California?