Coaster train
A Coaster train heading north on the Del Mar bluffs. Photo by Chris Jennewein

SANDAG is officially moving forward with a long-term plan to move the railroad tracks along the fragile Del Mar bluffs into a tunnel deep under the coastal city.

The regional planning agency accepted an expected $300 million state grant last week to begin advance work on the project.

A number of possible routes are under consideration, but currently the two preferred alternatives are under Camino Del Mar or through Crest Canyon. Both routes would extend from Jimmy Durante Boulevard in the north to Carmel Valley Road in the south.

The tunnel would be approximately 80 feet beneath the surface and constructed by giant boring machines.

The project, which would include two tracks underground instead of the current single track along the bluffs, is expected to cost $2.5 billion or more. Construction could start in 2028 and be completed in 2035.

The line is the second-busiest rail corridor in the United States with more than 50 trains per day. It carries both freight and passenger service to San Diego, yet is frequently threatened by bluff collapse.

“Today was an exciting day at SANDAG, where we gratefully accepted $300 million from the state to prepare a shovel-ready project for a 2.5 mile tunnel to get the Del Mar railroad tracks off the crumbling bluffs,” said Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who is chair of SANDAG.

The project is expected to not only prevent a future disaster on the bluffa, but also significantly improve service.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.