California Short Lines Take RLBA’s Advice, Agree to New Plan to Restore Service to the Desert Line

In early June of 2016 the Pacific Imperial Railroad (PIR) and Baja California Railroad (BJRR) formally agreed to a subleasing agreement in which BJRR would restore and operate PIR’s section of the long-dormant Desert Line. The Desert Line, which is owned by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), is leased to the Pacific Imperial Railroad between Plaster City, CA and the international boarder at Division, CA. Once in Mexico, the remainder of the railroad to Tijuana is operated by BJRR. The sublease agreement is the culmination of over a year’s worth of negotiation between the two railroads and MTS.

As part of these on-going negotiations, RLBA was engaged by MTS to facilitate the exchange of ideas and to recommend interchange and operating agreements between the two railroads. Due the extreme environment in which the rail line is located, RLBA quickly determined that the successful reactivation of the railroad required close cooperation between the two railroads beyond typical short line partnerships. To that end, several RLBA staff members spent a week on site in San Diego to meet with PIR, BJRR and MTS managements, as well as to conduct a physical inspection of the railroad. After evaluating the information gathered during the week in San Diego, the RLBA staff combined its extensive knowledge of the railroad industry and the circumstances on the ground in the subject territory to produce recommendations jointly to PIR, BJRR and MTS as to how the Desert Line could be operated most successfully.

In a detailed final report, RLBA made the strong recommendation that a PIR sublease of the line to BJRR would create the most efficient operation possible. RLBA also suggested that as part of the sublease, BJRR take on most, if not all, of the rehabilitation work on the line. Prior to RLBA’s recommendation, neither railroad nor MTS had considered such an arrangement, instead favoring a more traditional interchange arrangement. After reviewing the RLBA report and engaging in several follow-on discussions, all parties came to understand both the serious issues of implementing a traditional interchange agreement between the two railroads, as well as the numerous advantages of RLBA’s sublease recommendation. All three parties have since come to a formal agreement closely based on RLBA’s recommendation, resolving several years of contract disputes and achieving a significant milestone for the Desert Line.