By Darrell E. Johnson
Chief Executive Officer
Orange County Transportation Authority
As CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority, where our primary mission is to keep our county moving with a balanced and sustainable transportation network, I want to emphasize that the LOSSAN rail line is a vital part of that network.
Balanced means that we’re providing a wide range of mobility options – better freeways and streets, public transit like OC Bus and the future OC Streetcar, viable active transportation with improved sidewalks and bikeways, and a safe and reliable rail system.
Sustainable means that we’re investing in protecting and improving our transportation infrastructure, creating healthier communities, and continuing to innovate to meet the changing needs of how Orange County moves – for now and for generations to come.
That’s exactly what is guiding our decisions and our partnerships as we once again work together as quickly as possible to protect the rail line through San Clemente and safely restore passenger service. At the same time, we are underway on a parallel path to ensure we can preserve this critical link in Southern California’s rail network for the next 30 years and beyond.
Right now, our focus is on quickly and safely restoring passenger rail service for the passengers who rely on it. As soon as the land on private property above San Clemente’s Mariposa Pedestrian Bridge gave way, pushing it off its footings and sending debris onto the track, we made took the necessary action to halt rail service and rapidly mobilize emergency crews. Shutting down service is never easy but when lives are potentially at stake because of unstable property threatening our right of way, we have to put safety first despite the disruptions we know it will cause.
On Thursday, in response to a letter I sent to Caltrans Director Tony Tavares, the state issued an official emergency declaration for the current landslide. This crucial declaration by the state will allow OCTA to access up to $10 million in immediate emergency funding toward protecting the track and safely restoring passenger service as soon as possible. I’m grateful for the state’s partnership and for recognizing what an important issue this is for regional mobility.
Since that first evening on January 24, crews led by OCTA and our partners at Metrolink, have been working daily from dawn until dark to remove large sections of the bridge and tons of debris. They’re also working tirelessly to ensure the hillside on city and private property over our rail line is properly draining and stabilized, to ensure there’s no more threat to passengers or crew as trains pass.
We understand the urgency and our priority is to safely restore passenger service as soon as possible for those who rely on Metrolink and Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner.
At the same time, we understand the ongoing challenges brought on by a rapidly changing environment. Because of unstable private property and city property above the rail line through San Clemente, this is the fifth time in the past three years we’ve been forced to stop train traffic. Prior to that, the rail line operated mostly uninterrupted for the past 125 years.