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Rededication of the Coronado Branch Line
and National City Santa Fe Depot
Friday, July 14, 2000
www.trainweb.com/news/2000g14a.html

By Matthew Melzer

Steve had received a letter of invitaion some time back from the San Diego Electric Railway Association (SDERA) regarding today's event, the VIP celebration of the reopening of the Coronado Belt Line and the ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the renovation of the National City Depot, which used to be considered Santa Fe's westernmost terminus.

This, of course, is an important event, but just yesterday Steve realized that he couldn't be in two places at once! Today he is leaving for San Luis Obispo with his family for a weekend getaway, thus preventing him from covering this event. So, here I am, on my way to San Diego, doing my first coverage of special events for TrainWeb! My job usually includes such tasks as adding page content to TrainWeb and placing hosted sites' banners into rotation. So, this kind of field coverage is strange, but exciting!

The festivities begin at noon today, and I wanted to take Pacific Surfliner train 570 to San Diego, which departs Los Angeles at 8:30 AM and arrives at 11:25 AM, since it was to utilize the new Surfliner equipment. But once I get to San Diego, I have to take a Red Trolley to National City, so that kind of arrival time is cutting it too close. So, I'm on my way to San Diego right now on train 568, with a scheduled departure time of 7:15 AM, arriving at 10:05 AM. My train was late from the start, not even pulling into Los Angeles until after 7:30.

This train, a California Car trainset, was coupled with the Surfliner set for 570 so that they could both be pulled into Los Angeles at the same time. Unforatunately, the two were arranged such that the Surfliner would have to go out as 568, and the California Cars as 570, thus disturbing this month's planned operating schedule of the Surfliners. To rectify the problem at hand, the two trainsets had to be wyed before entering LA Union Station. The train was in the station at 7:25 AM, and we finally departed at 7:33 AM. Wyeing the train put it in the reverse orientation of what it should be, with the locomotive in the front heading south. I have no problem with this! Sitting in the front section of Business Class, I'm now the closest passenger to the front of the train. It may not seem like such a big deal, but for me sitting towards the front of the train is an advantage, since being able to clearly hear the locomotive horn makes the rail travel experience seem more real and dramatic.

After a relatively quiet ride, we arrived into San Diego 20 minutes late at 10:25 AM. After enjoying a snack, I caught a San Diego Blue Line trolley for the 24th St. Station in National City. After walking a few blocks west, not knowing exactly what to look for, I stumbed upon the San Diego Electric Railway Association's small yards, where they store their railbus & speeders. A few volunteer workers greeted me and directed me across the street and around the corner to the site of the beautifully restored National City Santa Fe Depot. Despite an electrical fire on July 30, 1999 which many people felt would seriously delay the renovation of the station, it's now in pristine condition and will be ready for the public by the end of August, 2000!

By 11:30 AM, a number of guests and dignitaries had already shown up. I quickly said hi to TrainWeb's liason at the SDERA, Richard Hamilton, who was dressed in full trainman apparel! I subsequently got speaking with representatives from the Carrizo Gorge Railway in Lakeside, CA, which is a key partner in an ambitious, but doable master plan to restore direct rail service between San Diego and El Centro via Tijuana, Tecate, and Campo (along the former San Diego & Arizona). the Carrizo Gorge Railway owns and operates over much of this right-of-way through the California desert. However, they also own several rail tunnels which need to be repaired before Campo and El Centro can be directly linked.

Richard Hamilton was the Master of Ceremonies, and began the press conference at 12:20 PM. The first speaker was City of National City Mayor George Waters, who stressed the extremely positive fiscal impact a rail development project centered around the depot would have for the city. The shorter term goal for the SDERA is to reinitiate service to the marina at Imperial Beach, and run passenger excursions & dinner trains along the line. If marketed and executed correctly, this operation is expected to be a goldmine for local tourism.

Speaking next was Mike Reading of the Carrizo Gorge Railway, who is without a doubt the true expert behind the technical aspects of railroading in that area. He laid out the specifics of exactly what will be done and how. After him spoke Rich Borsam of the San Diego Railroad Museum, which will be a big supporter of these upcoming projects. The Museum owns, and operates excursions on, the right-of-way between Campo and Tecate, and just rehabilitated a major tunnel along the way. After Borsam was Al Alvarado, from the office of local Congressman Bob Felner. While Mr. Felner was unable to attend today's ceremonies, Alvarado congratulated the SDERA on his behalf. He also said that he felt he was the right man to deliver the message for the Congressman, as his father was a Santa Fe employee for 35 years and worked out of that exact same depot! The final speaker was Jim Papulas, President of the SDERA, who expressed his enthusiasm for the rate at which things are developing, as well as his optimism for the prospect of a bright future for the National City Depot and for the SDERA.

Immediately after the press conference was the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the depot, carried out by Mayor Waters and an SDERA volunteer. After a brief lunch, some of us guests walked up the street to board the rail bus and speeders for a half hour-long southbound excursion along the Coronado Belt a few miles south to F Street and back. Unfortunately, almost as soon as the excursion began, the speeders derailed! It was then discovered that a piece of equipment from before had pushed one of the tracks out of place at a certain point, thus making the gauge way too wide. It's a good thing these speeders don't go fast, or somebody could've gotten hurt! But after a handful of railroad men applied a little elbow grease, the speeders were back on track, and so were we!

Humble and fairly small as it may be, the Coronado Belt Line follows a very scenic route, going over marshes and rivers in a vast National Wildlife Refuge. It doesn't take long for one to see why running passenger excursions there would be a lucrative prospect. If chugging along these tracks in a cramped, noisy, open-air speeder feels good, imagine the joy of riding a real train through there! This excursion was nothing less than a very tangible demonstation of the potential the Coronado Belt Line holds.


Press Release from the SDERA:

San Diego Electric Railway Association
A 501(c)(3) Corporation
P.O. Box 89068 - San Diego, California 92138 - Message Phone: (619) 699-8690

Contact: Jim Papulas, President
San Diego Electric Railway Association, Inc.
(858) 695-6724

PRESS RELEASE

BACK ON TRACK
The Rededication of the Coronado Branch Line

July 14, 2000 VIP Day - July 15, 2000 Public Day

REMINDER
This coming Friday, July 14, the days of yore will be revisited with two historic events. As previously announced, the Coronado Belt Line will be returning to passenger service in the National City and Chula Vista area. VIP's and Guests are invited to join in the celebration of this event.

ANNOUNCING
In an additional event, the San Diego Electric Railway Association and the City of National City are pleased to announce that there will also be a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of the restoration of the first Pacific Coast Terminus Depot and General Office Building of the Atchinson Topeka and Santa Fe's Transcontinental Railroad. In late August the San Diego Electric Railway Association will open an operating railroad museum in the recently restored National City Depot.

You may remember that in the late afternoon of July 30, 1999, a fire started in the attic of the Depot. That fire caused a lengthy delay in the completion of the restoration project. We are just shy of the one-year anniversary of that devastating fire and are pleased to say that the National City Depot is also Back On Track!

Come join us in this dual celebration and return to yesteryear with the debut of these important restorations and help make history once again with the people of National City and San Diego County.

Operators of
The National City Depot - 922 West 23rd Street - National City, California 91950 - (619) 474-4400

Photos From the Event (Sony Mavica FD-73):


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