By Jill Replogle
SAN DIEGO – Itâ€™s an old, old dream. San Diego and Baja California leaders have been talking for decades about restoring the rail line that runs from San Diego to Tijuana and then back across the border to the Imperial Valley.
Now a new crop of leaders in the two border cities thinks it can turn that dream into reality.
â€œThatâ€™s one of our top priorities,â€ Jerry Sanders, president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said.
â€œItâ€™s very complex, obviously, when you have two governments, two state governments, two city governments, MTS. But I think it can be done.â€
MTS, the Metropolitan Transit System, leased operation of the Desert Line portion of the rail â€” from Imperial County to the border near Tecate â€” to Pacific Imperial Railroad in December 2012. The company currently is assessing reconstruction-needs along the line.
Tijuana business leaders are pushing for reconstruction of the rail line on the Mexican side of the border. Baja California governor Francisco Vega de Lamadrid has said its one of his priorities.
The San Diego-Baja rail line was also among the top concerns discussed during a recent trade trip to Mexico City sponsored by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Some 75 San Diego and Tijuana business and political leaders were on the trip.
â€œWeâ€™re seeing more companies want to come here and work on both sides of the border,â€ chamber president Sanders said, â€œbut the railroadâ€™s really an important issue for almost all of them.â€
A rail link would improve the shipping potential for cross-border businesses, take trucks off the road and entice shipping firms to choose San Diegoâ€™s port over Long Beach or Los Angeles, Sanders said.
Despite the business leaderâ€™s optimism for having the rail line operational by the end of this year, thereâ€™s much work to be done. Among them, an operating agreement must be worked out between the Mexican and U.S. lessees, and a rail station must be built in Mexicali.
In addition, Pacific Imperial Railroad has been accused of wrongdoing by former company leaders, the U-T reported recently. Two former CEOs of the company quit after believing they uncovered misconduct.