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High-speed-rail chief opposes beach route

(The Orange County Register published the following article by Fred Swegles on March 24.)

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. -- The executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority says he will recommend abandoning a plan to put a high-speed rail corridor along the beach through San Clemente.

"The community doesn't want it; it causes major disruption of the activities along the beach, and other things," Medhi Morshed said Thursday. "We have potential problems with the Coastal Commission and others."

Morshed said he'll recommend that the San Clemente beach route be eliminated at a meeting of the high-speed rail board Tuesday in San Diego. The board won't vote on the recommendation until May.

The agency will present its route options to the community at a 6:30 p.m. meeting April 2 at the San Clemente Community Center. Tunnels under the San Diego (I-5) Freeway are now the preferred option, Morshed said.

"It's good to have the California High-Speed Rail Authority taking this position," said John Dorey, president of DeRail the Rail, a San Clemente organization that says it supports improved rail transportation but not along the beach. "We're excited. We're very encouraged by it."

Dorey said he has seen two I-5 tunnel options. One would go under the freeway in San Juan Capistrano, resurface at Avenida Pico for a train station about where a Carrows Restaurant is, then go below the I-5 and San Mateo Creek, resurfacing south of there.

The other option is a surface route along Capistrano Beach to North Beach, then tunneling beneath the I-5 to San Onofre.

Stephanie Dorey, San Clemente mayor and John Dorey's wife, said a coalition of San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano supports the route that tunnels under the freeway at San Juan Capistrano, avoiding the Capistrano Beach coastal stretch entirely.

"It's the best of everything," the mayor said. "It's beneficial to the community, it's beneficial for the environment and it's beneficial for the railroad. So it's a triple win."

John Dorey said it is essential for the community to turn out for the April 2 meeting.

"Just because the staff pushes that (I-5) alignment doesn't mean the board is going to accept it," he said. "We can't let down our guard."

DeRail the Rail is preparing fliers to encourage a big turnout similar to a year ago, when an overflow crowd told Caltrans at a meeting that residents don't want double tracking along the beach. Caltrans is working on a parallel plan to expand conventional rail service and is continuing to consider double tracking the beach.

DeRail the Rail will circulate comment cards before and during the April 2 meeting so San Clemente residents can let the high-speed rail board know how the community feels, John Dorey said.

"Caltrans will be there," he said, "and we need to be there."

If freeway tunnels are built, the high-speed rail agency could share double tracking with Amtrak, Metrolink and freight trains, John Dorey said. "There is an opportunity to even have the rail taken completely off the beach," he said, though he cautioned that some rail transportation along the coast might be retained.

Morshed said he also will recommend eliminating a cut- and-cover, or trench-type, rail alignment through San Juan Capistrano that is opposed by that city. A bypass option will be presented to the board.

Mayor Dorey joined her husband in urging San Clemente residents to attend the April 2 meeting.

"Because of this recommendation, we now have a chance," she said. "We need to show that there's tremendous community support for going under I-5. If they see 20 people, they're going to wonder why they went to all the trouble to get the beach alignment screened out."

The High-Speed Rail Authority is proposing a 700-mile, $25 billion system linking San Francisco and Sacramento with Los Angeles and San Diego.

Monday, March 24, 2003

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