SAN DIEGO - The Metropolitan Transit System Board of Directors Thursday approved a bi-national agreement that will clear the way for rebuilding a mostly unused 70-mile stretch of railway in the southeastern San Diego County desert.
When the project between Campo and Imperial County is completed, the Desert Line will connect about 1,500 factories in and near Tijuana -- known as maquiladoras -- to U.S. rail facilities. Right now, movement of products into this country is done by trucks.
Work has long been delayed because of questions of financing and security since 40 miles of the line extend into Mexico.
San Diego officials contend that $6 billion in economic activity is lost annually because of delays faced by truckers trying to cross the border into this country.
Jerry Sanders of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce said there is $2.1 million in daily trade between San Diego and Tijuana, and infrastructure is critical to the supply chain.
He told reporters that "existing freight corridors are strained and the bottlenecks at our commercial (border crossings) cause unpredictable wait times for truckers."
"The rehabilitation of the cross-border railroad provides a much-needed alternative for moving goods through one of the most vibrant centers of commerce in the world," he said. "The Desert Line will provide a vital route that takes trucks off our freeways and increases shipping capacity that gets goods to marketplaces far more efficiently."
Sanders said the increased shipping capacity will help business officials attract more companies and investment to the region.
The rail line starts in Tijuana, runs east to Tecate, crosses the border near Campo and continues east to Plaster City in Imperial County. Baja California Railroad plans to spend $60-70 million to repair 57 bridges and 17 tunnels beginning this summer, according to the MTS.
A transportation hub will also be built in Imperial County.
San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts said 6,200 trucks cross into the U.S. daily through the border crossings at San Ysidro, Otay Mesa and Tecate, and the wait time can last up to two hours.
Reducing the number of trucks will ease wait times and reduce air pollution, Roberts said.