Reconstruction of Desert Line Railroad Approved

June 14, 2016

A new company will take over repairs and eventual operations of the Desert Line railroad, clearing the way for repairs to begin this summer and for trains to move goods made in Mexico into the United States by 2018.

Baja California Railroad (Baja Rail) will sublease the old 70-mile Desert Line railway in southeastern San Diego County rail line from Pacific Imperial Railroad (PIR) who has been leasing the tracks from the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) for 4 years.

The sublease agreement clears the way for the reconstruction and operation of the railway that connects Mexico maquiladoras to rail shipping in the United States. Operations are expected to relieve traffic congestion and long delays in getting trucks across the U.S. - Mexico borders in San Diego.

Work on the 60 miles of track between Tecate and Coyote Wells in Imperial County is expected to begin this summer and will include repairs on 57 bridges, work on 17  tunnels, and track improvements. Pacific Imperial will build a new intermodal facility in Coyote Wells to load truck freight onto rail, and assemble trains with as many as 100 cars. From this hub trains will run on a 10-mile stretch repaired and operated by Pacific Imperial with Baja Rail’s help and then connect to the Union Pacific Railroad in Plaster City, the end of the line.

The line was originally completed in 1919 and known as the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad, but because it required the construction of 17 tunnels and numerous trestles to negotiate the foreboding terrain it came to be known as The Impossible Railroad.

Cost for the line's reconstruction is estimated at $60-70 million and will be overseen by Baja Rail, which is incorporated in the United States and in Mexico. As a term of the sublease, MTS will continue to receive $1 million in minimum annual rent, but will now only receive a 7 percent cut of gross revenue when freight starts moving on the line, down from 15 percent in the previous agreement with Pacific Imperial.

The sublease divides responsibility of the Desert Line into two sections. The eastern portion runs approximately 60 miles from the border just east of Campo to Coyote Wells, which can handle trains of up to 30 cars, will be repaired and operated by Baja Rail.

There are plans for an international security checkpoint near the border.

Source: Metropolitan Transit System; San Diego Union Tribune