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Orange County

Railroad Project Loses Support

Panel recommends shelving plans to add tracks with a 2-mile tunnel under San Juan Capistrano and along the San Clemente coast.

March 27, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

A plan to add another track to the rail line through San Juan Capistrano's historic district and along the coast in San Clemente has fallen out of favor with railroad planners.

The California High Speed Rail Authority had been considering a 2-mile tunnel under the heart of San Juan Capistrano, but the agency's staff said Tuesday that construction would damage historic buildings and disrupt downtown businesses for as many as three years.

Mehdi Morshedi, the rail authority's executive director, said his staff also concluded that there is not enough room to add another set of tracks along San Clemente's fragile coastline. The rail authority's board will vote on its staff's recommendations May 27.

Officials from San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and San Clemente have been campaigning against the route for more than a year. Though pleased, San Clemente Mayor Stephanie Dorey noted that "it isn't a done deal ... now we need to make sure our community shows support for this."

Morshedi said his agency is still considering double-tracking options in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. In San Juan Capistrano, rail officials are considering routes that include one through a tunnel under Interstate 5. Through San Clemente and Dana Point, two possible tunnels under the freeway are being considered.

"A third option would be to do nothing," Morshedi said. "But to do that, we wouldn't achieve our goal of making locomotive service along the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor more reliable and less time-consuming."

Morshedi said the board will choose a plan by the end of the year.

The extra tracks through south Orange County are part of a $25-billion plan to build a high-speed rail system from Sacramento to San Diego. The entire system could be completed within 12 years, Morshedi said. But he said the Los Angeles to San Diego corridor could be running by 2010.

Morshedi said the project's goal is to create train service from San Francisco to L.A. in 2 1/2 hours and from L.A. to San Diego in 60 to 80 minutes.

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