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2005 blog


Keeping up with Jewish officeholders
Filner sees economic boom 
resulting from 'jobs train'
,  Jan. 6, 2005

U.S. Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) predicts a 120-mile "choo choo train" will have incredible effects on the economies of San Diego and Baja California.  Able to carry cargo from the Port of San Diego to the east-bound Union Pacific Railroad, without first going through crowded Los Angeles, Filner said the railroad will enable Pacific Rim shipping companies to avoid logjams and get their products to inland destinations in the United States more quickly.

Filner, whose congressional district stretches along the Mexican border from the Port of San Diego to the Arizona state line, said the little Carrizo Gorge Railroad is the culmination of a 15-year campaign in which he often faced opposition from U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a congressman from a neighboring district  who is today chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

U.S. Rep Bob Filner pauses at siding of 'job train.'

Because of the mountainous topography east of San Diego and the relative flatness of parallel land to the south in Mexico, the train travels about half its route in each country. From Filner's perspective, "this is a real positive because it demonstrates that by working together Mexico and the United States can produce jobs for each other."  That's exactly opposite the effect that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had for working class people in his district, Filner said.

The Democratic congressman believes, if the Port of San Diego will build itself up to accommodate more cargo, that San Diego will realize its long hoped-for destiny as a depot  for trade among the United States, Latin America, and the Far East.

"This will mean jobs for thousands of people, who will be able to buy a house, send their kids to college and realize the American dream," Filner said. "Tijuana and San Diego were both cul-de-sacs, unable to move goods directly  to the eastern parts of their countries, but this jobs train will enable both cities to do that."

The congressman said that the train hooks into Mexico's national railroad at the city of Mexicali, which lies south of the eastern portion of California. Similarly, he said, goods loaded in San Diego can go on this railroad directly to the junction with the Union Pacific Railroad in Plaster City in Imperial County.

The debate with Hunter was over the potential of the train being used for illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States.  Hunter at one point dubbed the line "the illegal alien express," but Filner said the Border Patrol and the U.S Customs Service was far more sanguine about the prospect. "Of all modes of transportation, a railroad is the easiest to control," Filner explained.  "There is just one track, and you can stop the train for as long as you want.  The Border Patrol and Customs said with a couple dozen people they would take care of it."

The railroad in its original incarnation was called the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railroad.  It was built in the early 20th century by sugar magnate John Spreckels.  But after storms and other disasters it fell into disuse.  Eventually, San Diego's Metropolitan Transit District took over the tracks lying on the American side of the border, while the Mexican government took control of the tracks on the Mexican side.

The Carrizo Gorge Railway, whose chief executive officer Gary Sweetwood is a longtime railroad enthusiast, had been used on a limited basis for tours through the steep Carrizo Gorge area and  for cross border transport of U.S.-bound sand and Mexico-bound propane.

Filner, a high-ranking member of the House Transportation Committee, said that he was able to have $10 million set aside several years ago for the construction of multi-modal transfer facilities that would ease the movement of containers from ships to trains to trucks.  Because the Port of San Diego is crammed for ground space, "we need  a place where trucks and trains can trade things around, so there is a concept of an inland port."

Asked what is next now that the railroad is functioning, Filner replied that there needs to be a marketing effort aimed at the "largest shipping firms in the world, which may be looking for a West Coast alternative."  Additionally, he said, the Port needs to be reassured that there is sufficient business to more than justify more infrastructure development.  Donald H. Harrison