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Transportation

The Race to Save a Scenic California Train From Rising Seas

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner service has been halted for emergency track repairs as rail authorities grapple with the uncertain future of coastal infrastructure. 

A Pacific Surfliner train makes its way along the coast in San Clemente, California, in October 2021.

A Pacific Surfliner train makes its way along the coast in San Clemente, California, in October 2021.

Photographer: MediaNews Group/Orange County via Getty Images

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner glides along 351 miles of Southern California coastline, carrying nearly 3 million passengers a year between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. To the west, riders enjoy sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean; on the other side, rolling hills and beachside cities flow past. 

But the scenic oceanfront train is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels and severe weather. On Sept. 30, transit officials halted Amtrak passenger service, as well as Metrolink regional rail, along the nation’s second-busiest rail corridor. After Tropical Storm Kay tore into the Golden State’s seaboard with heavy rains and high tides, geotechnical sensors detected that the fragile landscape of sand and rock underneath the tracks near San Clemente was moving as much as nearly a half an inch a day.