The Orange County Transportation Authority has declared an emergency related to a sliding hillside in San Clemente that has threatened a railroad track and led to the intermittent halting of train service in parts of Southern California.

The OCTA Board declared the emergency Monday, just days after the land beneath the historic Casa Romantica cultural center began to slip away, sending dirt and rocks onto the train track below.

The emergency vote will allow OCTA CEO Darrell E. Johnson to take the necessary actions to “protect and reopen the track,” according to a release from the Board.

OCTA is working with Metrolink, the commuter rail system that serves Southern California, to develop a new plan and implement safety measures to protect the rail line, which is located beneath the cultural center just north of the San Clemente Pier.

San Clemente landslide
A landslide in San Clemente on April 27, 2023, impacted Amtrak train service between Irvine and San Diego. (SkyFOX)

Both organizations hope to have the track reopened for passenger rail service “as soon as possible.”

As part of the joint efforts, a temporary barrier wall at the bottom of the slope will be constructed in OCTA’s right of way. The wall will hopefully prevent more debris from the slide from ending up on the tracks and damaging them further.

Metrolink is expected to hire a contractor to design and build the wall, with emergency authorization to speed up the process.

The city of San Clemente is also working to determine the cause of the slide and take the necessary steps to stabilize the hillside. The city has not yet released a detailed timeline for those efforts, OCTA said, but it will take at least several weeks.

At this time, there is no set date for when commuter rail service will resume through San Clemente.

Johnson said passenger safety will ultimately be the determining factor for when it will be OK to resume service.

“We understand how difficult this closure is for the people who rely on rail service through San Clemente and we will work hard to get service running again safely,” Johnson said.

San Clemente Landslide
The collapsing cliffside at Casa Romantica in San Clemente on June 5, 2023. (KTLA)

This most recent slide in San Clemente happened only days after rail service was resumed through the city. Train service had previously been closed for an entire month after the slide began on April 27.

After the June slide, freight traffic briefly resumed on June 7, but was halted out of an abundance of caution until more robust safety measures can be implemented.

Another hillside construction project is currently being completed by OCTA near the Cyprus Shore Homeowners Association, just two miles south of the slide in San Clemente.

As part of the closure, both Metrolink and Amtrak have modified their rail service schedules in Southern California.