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The City of San Clemente is building a "rail with trail" project along 2.5 miles of active railroad tracks in Orange County Transportation Authority right-of-way.

arrowThis project was nominated for a Planning/Design Award as part of the 2008 National Trails Awards, announced at the 19th National Trails Symposium in Little Rock, Arkansas.


San Clemente builds coastal trail along active railroad tracks

Borthwick Guy Bettenhausen, Inc.

photo of trail next to railroad

A 1,600 foot long trail bridge hugs the coastal bluff at Mariposa Point


San Clemente is a southern California mid-point between Los Angeles and San Diego. The burgeoning population has grown from 17,000 in 1970 to 63,000 today. Their beaches are enjoyed by 2.2 million visitors a year, who all must first negotiate the crossing of existing railroad tracks that receive up to 52 trains per day.

The railroad tracks were first constructed in the 1880’s, and are located at the toe of steep coastal bluffs. Narrow ”goat trails” in close proximity to the railroad tracks are used by joggers, and cross over railroad ballast with marginal access where drainage is poor during winter rains. These narrow paths have limited sight lines due to a curving coastline, and were factors leading to the decision by the City to develop the Railroad Corridor Pedestrian Beach Trail project.

For the past ten years, the City of San Clemente has embarked on the process of developing the continuous 2.5 mile coastal trail paralleling active railroad tracks within the Right-of-Way owned by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA). In addition, the City proposed construction of new, improved safe access points to the City beaches. Although the City has 18 beach access points identified in their Coastal Land Use Plan, (13 of which are within the project limits), only four were improved and licensed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

photo of trail next to railroad

The projects addresses the safety needs of pedestrians seeking
access to the beaches


In 1999, the City started the process of organizing a community task force to identify and propose solutions for the safety needs of pedestrian access to the beaches. The Railroad Corridor Safety and Education Panel (RCSEP) was formed and spent nine months canvassing the City, holding stakeholder workshops and developing the “Safety Recommendations for the San Clemente Railroad Corridor”. These recommendations were the basis of design for the consultant team to implement final design solutions.

Although OCTA was a proponent of the project to provide an ADA compliant trail through the City boundary and increase the number of safe, licensed beach access railroad crossings, the project was met with strong opposition from Caltrans, CPUC, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF). Continuous efforts lead by OCTA, RCSEP, and City staff ultimately changed the minds of the California Public Utility Commissioners in support of the project, to which, a subsequent Settlement Agreement was reached in 2004 allowing the project to move forward to final design and construction. A key component of the agreement was City indemnification of the Railroad Authority and a twenty-year Right-of-Way lease agreement between OCTA and the City (the only one of this duration in California).

photo of trail next to railroad

New trail along active railroad in San Clemente, CA

The project is currently in the final stages of a two-phase $15 million construction program that has provided five new licensed at-grade pedestrian crossings, one new pedestrian under crossing and improved the access of three existing under-crossings and one at-grade crossing. The trail paralleling the coastal railroad tracks has replaced the “goat trails” into an all weather multi-use trail of stabilized decomposed granite enjoyed by dog-walkers, joggers, and bicyclists of all ages.

A 1,600 foot long pedestrian bridge hugs the coastal bluff at Mariposa Point, offering dramatic ocean views and a vantage point from which to watch the fireworks during 4th of July celebrations at the nearby pier. Transparent cable rail fencing, large rock ballast and native plantings between the trail and tracks provide the safety elements required to deter pedestrians from crossing at unauthorized points. New signage directing pedestrian traffic to licensed crossings and a stepped-up safety officer program warns transgressors of potential fines for trespassing into the railroad corridor.

In light of the CPUC’s desire to limit and preferably reduce the number of railroad crossings in California, the City of San Clemente would not be in the current position of enjoying this trail project without the support of OCTA and the perseverance of the RCSEP members and City Staff to doggedly pursue support at the State legislative level, securing local and federal funding, while balancing the needs of various constituent groups during design and construction of the Railroad Corridor Pedestrian Beach Trail.

As acknowledged by local newspapers and periodicals, the San Clemente Railroad Corridor Pedestrian Beach Trail has been an overwhelming success in providing an oceanfront trail that is extremely popular with persons of all ages and physical abilities.

For more information:

James Pechous, Senior Planner, City of San Clemente
910 Calle Negocio, Suite 100, San Clemente State: CA 92672
Phone: (949) 361-6195 Fax: (949) 366-4750 - Website:

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