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San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System announced progress on Friday (June 21) on an agreement with Pacific Imperial Railroad, which seeks to revive the freight-oriented Desert Line railroad between Tecate and Plaster City, in the Imperial Valley east of San Diego County, whose 69.9 miles of track were originally laid by San Diego real estate mogul John D. Spreckels in 1906.

The MTS Board of Directors voted in December to approve a lease of MTS-owned right-of-way on the line for a period of up to 99 years. The first payment of $500,000, due July 1, was received earlier this month, MTS reports.

Pacific Imperial will now begin reconstruction work on the line, which is expected to take until December. Testing of the route should begin in January 2014, though it could be three years until the line begins operations and five years until it’s fully functional.

Another $500,000 is due MTS on January 1, 2014. Thereafter, lease payments will be the greater of $1 million or 15 percent of Pacific Imperial’s gross operating revenue for the duration of operations.

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Visduh June 24, 2013 @ 11:28 a.m.

Uh, Dave, go back and look at a map. That railroad linked El Centro with San Diego and part of the line ran through Mexico. It has no connection with Mexicali, and the part that MTS owns in Imperial County and eastern San Diego County is all west of Plaster City. Of that railroad constructed by Spreckels, completed in 1919, Southern Pacific retained ownership of the track as far west as Plaster City when they sold the rest to MTS. But this is most interesting. Previous attempts by the MTS to find a freight operator didn't do much for the line, and it has been generally out of use for the past thirty years. The fact that this operation is willing to put up a half million bucks and pay a fairly stiff share of its revenues to the MTS suggests that they are both serious and properly capitalized. I look forward to having the line open and operating once again.


Dave Rice June 24, 2013 @ 11:20 p.m.

You got me - the line in question runs from Plaster City (a few miles west of El Centro) to Tecate, not Mexicali, according to MTS. No excuse for that mistake, or any idea why I made it. Thanks for the catch, it's been corrected.


Javajoe25 June 24, 2013 @ 8:24 p.m.

You're not the only one, Visduh. I've always felt that San Diego is getting short-changed by not having an East-West rail line. I realize this one, should it come to pass, would not go all the way to Yuma, but it's a start. I don't know why the idea was abandoned just because of a 100-yr flood that washed out the tracks. Some said it may have been sabotage.

I wonder if this will put the old trestle in the Goat Canyon section of the Carrizo Gorge back in service? That would be fantastic. And hopefully, the tourist train that runs out of Campo might be able to link in and really offer riders a great trip.

I do recall reading somewhere that a big concern is the original rail line goes in and out of Mexico and offers too much opportunity for illegal border crossing and druggistas. That is going to be a big stumbling block, but if a way can be found to resolve it, this could benefit all concerned.

Nice catch, Visduh.


Visduh June 25, 2013 @ 10:48 p.m.

If/when this comes to pass, it will mean the Goat Canyon trestle will be in use again. Duncan Hunter (the father, not the son) was a huge opponent of that line in any form because he was sure that it would be a conduit for smuggling. Actually, there is now a proton scanner that can "see" inside sealed steel boxcars to detect contraband.

I've studied the line, and putting it back in service has a number of technical matters to solve, all of them costly and difficult, and the freight hauler will also have to strike a deal with the Mexicans. Be aware that the western end of the line in Mexico is in use, with freight passing into/out of that country at the San Ysidro border crossing. I'm told that trains go out as far to the east as Tecate at times. So, part of the line is still in use. A tourist train is possible, but the Carrizo Gorge is perpetually windy, and during the summer is hotter than Hades, while it is very cold during the winter.


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