Railroads, villas, beaches… In California, the ocean swallows the coast

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Tracks railways, villas, beaches... In California, the ocean swallows the coast

In front of the railway embankment where the Pacific Surfliner passes, this train renowned for the exceptional panoramas it allows you to admire, the beach which stretched over a hundred meters a few years ago has evaporated.

Along one of the most beautiful railway lines in the world, Steve Lang watches the waves crash tirelessly on the rocks and spill over the tracks. This sad sight is caused by erosion and the disappearance of the beach just below.

Every day, I come here and it makes me want to cry, the 68-year-old surfer told AFP, in the front row of his luxurious house overlooking the ocean in San Clemente.


In this Southern California city, the ocean is relentlessly gaining ground. In front of the railway dike where the Pacific Surfliner passes, this train famous for the exceptional panoramas it allows to admire, the beach which stretched over a hundred meters a few years ago still #x27;is evaporated.

Without this natural buffer, waves from Tropical Storm Kay in September stirred the ground beneath the tracks. The railroad, which carries 8.3 million passengers annually between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, is now closed for emergency work.

Overlooking, anxiety reigns within the Cyprus Shore residence, a secure enclave of around a hundred opulent villas, where former US President Richard Nixon once owned a mansion. Indeed, without a beach to support the neighborhood, the landslide on which it was built is slowly pushing some houses into the sea.

Cyprus Shore resident and surfer Steve Lang walks along a neighborhood parking lot, built into the side of a cliff, which has buckled and collapsed due to landslide partially caused by coastal erosion. /p>

The cliffside parking lot is collapsing and two villas with cracked walls are now officially uninhabitable. They were worth at least 10 million each, Mr. Lang sighs.

“We've been sounding the alarm for years, in vain.

—Neighborhood resident Steve Lang

This area is a true microcosm of the problems that will appear along the 2000 kilometers of California coast, summarizes the deputy mayor of San Clemente, Chris Duncan. The entire coast in California is threatened by climate change and erosion.

This natural phenomenon is aggravated by rising waters, caused by the melting of glaciers, as well as than by the increase in the power of the waves due to the warming of the oceans.

By 2050, infrastructure worth eight to ten billion dollars could end up underwater in California. Other constructions whose value is estimated between six and ten billion will be in the risk zone at high tide, according to a study published at the end of 2019 by the office of the Assembly of the State.


In San Clemente, local transit authorities are trying to stabilize the rails. Every day, tons of rocks are dumped to reinforce the dike under the railway line. This work is expected to take 45 days and cost $12 million.

But it's a losing battle, sighs Mr. Duncan. The line has already been closed in September 2021 to add 18,000 tons of rock, without solving the problem. They help stabilize the track temporarily, but they cause exponential loss of sand, he says, when the waves hit them hard.

A wave breaks on a truck carrying large stones to be dumped along the coast to protect the tracks near Cyprus Shore, in San Clemente, California.

The elected Democrat is asking for help from the federal authorities to massively supply his city with sand.

We need sand replenishment and sand retention techniques to be able to rebuild our beaches, he insists. We need seawalls, live reefs, groynes where appropriate.

In the long term, the best solution would be to back [the rails] away from the coast, Joseph Street, a geologist with the California Coastal Commission, told AFP. But this obviously represents a huge effort, very expensive, which would not solve the fate of the homes.

Many of our decision-makers have dragged their feet, deplores Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, of the Surfrider Foundation. This environmental defense NGO is campaigning to move the line away from the coast, an option recommended as early as 2009 in a federal report.

But this concept of supervised retirement remains very controversial. People don't want to hear about it, admits the activist. California has only a handful of such initiatives.

On the same railroad as San Clemente, San Diego authorities, at a hundred kilometers to the south, have just announced in July a vast project worth 300 million US dollars to relocate, inland, the portion of the rails that fall under their control.

However, in San Clemente, there is no question of debating it. This can only be an option of last resort, says Deputy Mayor Duncan. People expect elected officials like me to work to save our homes and our railroad, not to give up.

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