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South Bay About to Lose Important Transportation Link

It's a bad idea, in growing Southern California, to lose mass transit infrastructure. It was a bad idea for Los Angeles to sell off a thousand miles of rail right-of-way in the 1950s and it's a bad idea today for South Bay cities in San Diego County to destroy the Coronado Branch railway line.

While this battle to save the line seems to pit historical rail preservationists against cities' development interests and a bike path, there's another important consideration - the preservation of publicly owned transportation and freight options.

The leaders of Chula Vista and other South Bay regions say they don't want to usurp the right-of-way of the railway line. The Metropolitan Transit Development Board won't relinquish the right-of-way, anyway. But the cities want to make sure nobody uses it so they can pave it over. The right-of-way will still be preserved, only it will be under a few feet of asphalt. Owning a right-of-way that can't be used may not be the same as losing a right-of-way, but the result is just the same.

It's not the plans for a tiny tourist train chugging around the bay on the Coronado Branch that has everybody up in arms. What frightens cities and the San Diego Unified Port District is the possibility that the line might be used for freight. For the Port District to oppose an additional freight line coming up from the south is rather strange. When a desert rail line controlled by the Union Pacific opens up within the next year, freight access to the Port of San Diego will be available only between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. because it will have to come in along the trolley line. The trolley line up the east side of Interstate 5 is only available during those hours.

The Coronado Branch line runs parallel to the trolley line along the west side of I-5, and could allow 24-hour access to the port, with an extension line built from Nestor to the San Ysidro rail yard.

But Chula Vista and National City don't want the rail line. National City recently voted against historic status for the line, which might seem unusual considering that the city renovated its 1882 train depot two years ago and opened it with much fanfare as a destination place for historical tourism. But the City Council voted against the rail that would be used by old-time tourist trains leaving its historic depot station. National City officials said they don't want freight trains going through the western areas the city is trying to upgrade.

The Port District's opposition to the Coronado Branch is also curious. Although the rail could provide freight access for maritime shipping, the Port District made a deal with the Chula Vista and BF Goodrich several years ago to reconfigure bay-front property to allow the Chula Vista bay-front development to proceed. In that deal, the Port District and the city of Chula Vista promised to remove the rail line as an impediment to development. Apparently, property owners, the Port District and the city don't want freight trains lumbering through their plans for bay-front development.

Nowhere does there seem to be any consideration for what's best for the region in regard to this rail line. Maritime shipping and a 24-hour rail link to the desert rail line should be very important to the Port District. A historic rail line around San Diego Bay should be considered an asset to tourism, one of our region's largest industries. Government leaders should be trying to keep this public right-of-way open until its best uses can be fulfilled. Instead, a bunch of separate special interests, ignoring the importance of rail transportation to Southern California, seems determined to destroy it.

Editorial reprinted from San Diego Union-Tribune, South County Edition, January 16, 2003

2003 - Volume 34, Issue 1

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