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The Desert Line

Monday, August 8, 2016


The Desert Line is presumably being turned back on its feet

Founded in 1906, the Desert Line was quick to be nicknamed as “the impossible railroad” by many engineers of its time, and a quick look at history makes such statements ring true. The full railroad covers the staggering amount of 146 miles, with the Desert Line playing a critical role by connecting Mexico’s assembly plants with the United States.


Recent news show that the damaged line may be more than a pipe dream. A new company, Baja California Road (Baja Rails), is taking over and will sublease the line from the Pacific Imperial Railroad (PIR), a company that has leased the tracks from its landlord, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit District, since 2012.


The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) staff and Baja Rail seem to be fully invested in the project. The latter has already repaired the section that crosses Mexico yet there is a lack of a station where freight can be loaded from trucks onto the train cars.


David Alvarez, San Diego City Councilman who has criticized Pacific Imperial Railroad in the past, is optimistic about the project. According to him, the work performed by Baja Rail on the Desert Line has been appropriate, and that both MTS and Baja Rail are confident about the due date, promising a fully operational in the next two years.


Nonetheless, there are individuals whose views are not so positive in regards to this recent undertaking; indeed, the Desert Line has a bad reputation for its disasters: fires and floods are but some of the unfortunate events that have postponed repairs for many years.


Enter Joe Kasper, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter. He claims that MTS is taking the wrong decision, lacking the necessary leadership and taking steps backwards in the matter of this operation. Controversy is to be expected on a task of such proportions, its economic impact being equally massive.


Regardless, work on the line will include repaired bridges and tunnels, as well as improvements to the tracks. Once completed, the Desert Line will allow trains up to 30 cars to travel on the line from Mexico to Coyote Wells; from there, the cars will be assembled to deliver the goods to the Union Pacific Railroad in Plaster City.


Negotiations between PIR and Baja Rail culminated on June 2, 2016. While Baja Rail will oversee and pay for the railroad repair, maintenance and an operational obligation for the first 60 miles of the Desert Line, MTS retains its authority as the rail owner, making sure that the process meets safety and regulatory standards, among other requirements.


If this joint effort between PIR, Baja Rail and MTS proves effective, trains will be moving goods made in Mexico into the United States by 2018. And if we go back to history one more time, it has taught us time and again that both countries have profited enormously by successful, mutual-benefit relationships and business ventures.



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