San Diego-Valley rail line to be reopened?

May 10, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Metropolitan Transit District Board unanimously

granted operating rights to a railway company that plans to reopen the San Diego-Imperial Valley cargo rail line.

The San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad, out of operation for almost 20 years, has come under criticism because it crosses the U.S.-Mexico border.

The rail line travels from San Diego to Tijuana and through Mexico to Tecate before it crosses back into the U.S., just west of Campo, then goes to Plaster City in Imperial County. At Plaster City, the rail line connects to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which runs through El Centro, Calexico and Mexicali.

The train line can carry products via the Southern Pacific Railroad from Mexicali, Calexico and El Centro to San Diego and Tijuana or vice versa.


The previous railroad contractor, the San Diego and Imperial Valley Railroad, had no interest in opening the line. Carrizo Gorge of Lakeside wanted to open the railroad and came up with the financial backing to do so, a May 2 letter from San Diego transit board member Mitch Beauchamp states.


This is a great connection for Imperial County and San Diego, Imperial County Supervisor Joe Maruca said.

"We've been working with the people of San Diego trying to get this started for years," Maruca said.

It's also an important piece of the cargo airport puzzle, he said.

Jesus Torres Acevedo, general director of the Tijuana-Tecate Railroad, said a west-to- east Union Pacific rail line from El Centro, Calexico and Mexicali is already operating but it doesn't connect to San Diego or Tijuana. This new agreement connects San Diego and Tijuana to eastbound ports.

"We have an infrastructure we're not using. With this agreement, we'll be able to use it," Acevedo said.

This is a good example of a NAFTA-based binational project, he said.

U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, got a $10 million federal grant for the project. He said the cooperation of U.S. and Mexican officials will lead to jobs and a better quality of life on both sides of the border.


U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, told county business leaders in 1997 he opposed reopening the railroad because other border rail lines have been

"besieged by border bandits and illegal immigrants."

Hunter's opposition was not popular with many local business people who said they wanted the rail line resurrected because it would benefit the Valley's economy.

Congressional redistricting done last year will cut Hunter out of Imperial County in 2003. San Diego County's border region and Imperial County, which will be in the 51st Congressional District, will have one representative in 2003. Filner already represents much San Diego County border and hopes to win the 51st District seat in November. Filner is on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

This is a private sector project. Hunter's opposition did not slow it, Filner said.

The main problem in reopening the rail line was it had been controlled by two companies in two countries. Now it is controlled by one company, he said.

Filner said the much-needed transportation artery will make eastbound transportation to the rest of the country available to San Diego and Tijuana.


The San Diego and Arizona Railway Co. was incorporated in 1906 by John D. and Adolph B. Spreckels of San Diego. Union Pacific Railroad mogul Edward H. Harriman later joined them in time to break ground in 1907, according to the San Diego Railroad museum.

Construction was completed in 1919. In January 1920, two trains, "The Imperial Valley Local," provided rail service from Calexico to San Diego, San Diego Railroad museum documents state.

Passenger service on the now San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Co. ended in 1951 because of steady decline.

In 1979, San Diego's Metropolitan Transit Development Board purchased the SD&AE Railway Co.

Floods, storms, landslides, avalanches and fire were a constant battle for the railroad. In 1983 the 70-mile "Desert Line" portion of the railroad, from the border to Plaster City, was stopped when fire destroyed

two tunnels.

Bill Anderson, consultant for the Carrizo Gorge Railway, said the railroad could be operating in a year.

"The rail line has been dormant for 20 years. There's a lot of deterioration. We need to evaluate the damage to see what needs to be done," Anderson said.

This agreement is for cargo only, but there is a demand for a passenger access in the future, he said.

Filner added the new agreement will not impact his vision to bring a magnetic levitation high-speed rail line from San Diego to Arizona via the Imperial Valley.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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