Commentary: Tunnel Truths

It seems everyone has an opinion about SANDAG’s proposed rail tunnel in Del Mar. That includes me. My White Paper on the topic is here:  But, a fact sheet with the basics might be helpful so you can form your own opinion.

The Basics

  • 60+ trains a day, including BNSF freights, Amtrak, and Coaster, currently travel through Del Mar. That number will soon go to 100+ per day. This is the only rail link between San Diego and the national rail system.

  • Currently, about 8.3 million passengers and $1 billion in freight, as well as military use, ride the LOSSAN rails every year and those numbers are expected to grow.

  • NCTD owns the rail right of way through Del Mar. Amtrak has federal rights and BNSF has contractual rights to use it. NCTD controls only the Coaster.

  • The City of Del Mar neither owns nor controls any of the rail line, the R.O.W., nor any of the rail operations.

  • SANDAG is proposing to relocate the rails off the Del Mar bluff and into a tunnel somewhere between the ocean and the I-5. Del Mar’s approval is not required.

  • A decision on a tunnel location and alignment has not yet been made by SANDAG. The technical and environmental review process to evaluate the options is just starting.

  • SANDAG preliminarily reviewed 5 possible tunnel alignments in 2017 and focused on two in 2021—the so called Crest Canyon and CDM alignments. These alignments and a “reasonable range of alternatives” will be reviewed in the required federal and state environmental documents to come, including a “no project” alternative.

  • A cost benefit analysis is required by federal law if federal funds are used as is planned.

  • The rail line can’t stay on the fragile bluff and needs to go inland.

Key Issues

  • Which alignment is best for Del Mar?  Study the options, wait until the facts are in, and then form your opinion.

  • How can Del Mar’s residents, businesses, and property owners protect their interests in this process?  Let SANDAG know now what you want addressed as SANDAG gets ready to start the technical and environmental studies. When the studies are complete (estimated 2025) review them and submit your opinion on what you think the best solution is. Participate in the SANDAG outreach process so your voice is heard.

  • Is shutting the rail line an option? Neither SANDAG, NCTD, nor the city has the authority to close the rail line. Closing the rail line through Del Mar would require federal and state government approval.

The tracks on the bluffs. Photo by Dwight Worden.