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Orange County

City Fears Train Plan Is Runaway

April 21, 2002|STANLEY ALLISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Clemente officials and residents fear that the state is rushing ahead with plans to send more and faster trains along the city's fragile beach despite environmental concerns and fierce community opposition.

Several transportation agencies are considering adding a second set of tracks along the beach-side right of way, a key upgrade for Los Angeles-to-San Diego train service.

The additional tracks would allow more freight and passenger trains to travel faster and with fewer delays.

One of the options considered by Caltrans would have two sets of tracks at ground level, with trains traveling up to 90 mph where beachgoers cross on foot. The other option would be to build a tunnel under Interstate 5 for the tracks.

"It's ludicrous," said San Clemente Councilwoman Susan Ritschel. "Neither alternative is going to be feasible, and the coastal route doesn't make sense from an environmental, safety or community perspective."

An overflow crowd of several hundred people showed up at a recent Caltrans public hearing on the plan. The unexpectedly large turnout has prompted Caltrans to schedule another meeting at 6 Tuesday night at Heritage Christian Fellowship Church, 190 Avenida La Pata.

Councilwoman Stephanie Dorey said she believes Caltrans is hoping to get quick approval for the coastal double-tracking option, which would be much cheaper than building a tunnel.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is also considering plans to add tracks through San Clemente. Dan Leavitt, deputy director of the authority, said there is a lot of misunderstanding among city officials and residents about the various studies.

"There were a lot of upset and angry people [at the public hearing] because they thought a decision had been made," Leavitt said. "But it has not."

San Clemente residents and city officials have been fighting to get the tracks off the beach for years and fiercely oppose anything that would add to the rail traffic there. City officials worry that more trains will lead to more accidents involving pedestrians and destabilize the coastal bluffs next to the right of way.

Ritschel said she wants the agencies to consider a third option: routing Los Angeles-to-San Diego train traffic along a new inland route.

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