Redlands residents and officials from all levels of government last week celebrated the groundbreaking of the Redlands Passenger Rail Project, a $355.4 million undertaking.
The ceremony was held in a tent next to Redlands’ iconic Santa Fe Depot, which has sat largely dormant since the Eisenhower administration. A refurbished 9-mile rail line will lead from a new station at the University of Redlands to the Metrolink station in San Bernardino and beyond.
Work was already within earshot of the festivities on Friday, July 19. Powered by an on-board low-emission, clean diesel engine, the train known as the Arrow is expected to start rolling in early 2021 every 30 minutes during peak commuting hours. Design work on zero-emission engines will begin in February.
If voters approve a proposal on the March 3 ballot for transit villages around the three Redlands stations — the U of R, Santa Fe Depot and Esri — it could dramatically change the character of the 131-year-old city. Other stations will be construction at Tippecanoe Avenue and at San Bernardino Stadium, home of the 66ers baseball team.
Three former Redlands mayors and the current mayor, Paul Foster, participated.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, who was mayor from 2010 to 2014, saluted the late Councilwoman Pat Gilbreath for her many years of support. She died in 2016. Gilbreath’s daughter and granddaughters were at the ceremony. He also praised Jon Harrison — mayor from 2005 to 2009 — who visited from his new home in Northern California to participate in the groundbreaking.
Also present was Carole Beswick, who became Redlands’ first female mayor in 1983 and served on the Rail to Redlands Working Group.
The project is being led by the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (formally the San Bernardino Association of Governments) in cooperation with Federal Transit Administration, the California State Transportation Agency and Omnitrans, which will operate the trains.
“That local, state, county, federal collaboration that is delivering this project has taken a lot of elected officials a lot of time and energy to deliver the resources that it will take to see this project through,” Aguilar said.
“Since my days on the council, this has been an investment that I felt was worthy to fight for,” he said.
The current mayor
Mayor Foster noted that literature, movies and songs have been resplendent with images and references to waiting for a train.
“Well, Redlands has been waiting for this train for many years,” he said. “While the train evokes a suggestion of our past, especially coming as it will to this historic Santa Fe Depot, it’s also a vehicle toward our future. We expect it will open an era of vitality and prosperity for our downtown as well as all the other stops along the line.”
The train and the transit villages specific plan it inspired will encourage neighborhoods where residents will walk or cycle to local shops, where employees can live a short walk from work or can travel to downtown Los Angeles or to the beach without frustration of the freeway, he said.
“Visitors will disembark to enjoy the retail and entertainment venues of our historic downtown, attend the symphony at the University of Redlands or see a performance at our wonderful Redlands Bowl, all within a short walking distance of one of the planned stations,” Foster said.
“The young entrepreneurs and high-tech workers hired by companies like Esri love Redlands. They love the open space, the parks, what they hear about our school system, they love the citrus groves that we save and all of the historic properties that we preserve. They love the cultural amenities of the bowl and the university, and with the addition of the rail line and the transit villages, they will find an urban downtown and walkable, bike-able community.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that is the future of Redlands.”
At last month’s State of the Community address, Foster said an economic renaissance was coming to Redlands. At the groundbreaking, he said the signs are already here, such as the second phase of the Packinghouse District, home of Sprouts, and the Redlands Public Market, which will be filled with unique and interesting restaurants.
“Within three years, everything you see around you here will be different,” he said.
The new parking structure will be right where the ceremony was taking place, with a new promenade and new retail and restaurants.
“We’ve been waiting on the train,” he said, “and really, it looks like it’s coming at the right time.”
Elissa Konove, undersecretary at the California State Transportation Agency, said the state has awarded $39.2 million in 2015 for this project with more than $75 million for this project through Senate Bill 1, the gas 12-cent per gallon tax increase enacted by the state in November 2017.
“We’re very proud to partner with the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, who has made a commitment to innovation in the transportation sector through projects such as this one,” she said.
“The Redlands Rail Project will not only be a regional and state leader, but a national leader in testing and deploying zero-emission technology, which will allow California to have a broader discussion on the future applications for other rail services throughout the state and the nation.”
The state aims to provide a transportation system that is safe, sustainable, integrated and accessible to all Californians, she said.
Ray Tellis, Region 9 administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, based in San Francisco, called the groundbreaking a momentous event. A quarter of the funding comes from the federal government, he said.
“The rail line will meet its mission of improving public transportation,” Tellis said. “We see the possibility to enhance the mobility for transit riders, among them the elderly, the disabled and individuals of low income whose lifeline is public transportation.”
Rail service is always a part of the transportation system’s future and San Bernardino County needs a reliable transit system to provide access to health, education, jobs and support growth without adding to traffic congestion, he said.
“Transit is the solution,” Tellis said. “Transit is going to take us places in the future.”
A San Bernardino voice
San Bernardino Councilman Henry Nickel, a member of the county transportation authority board, said city officials are “incredibly excited” by the Redlands Passenger Rail Project.
“The projected impact of this railroad on San Bernardino and our region is unquestioned,” Nickel said. “The downtown San Bernardino Transit Center, to which this railroad will connect, serves more than 5,000 riders every weekday. That is over 1.5 million boardings per year.”
The project enhances San Bernardino’s efforts to redevelop its downtown corridor and establish the city once again as a transportation hub for the region, he said.
Nickel said he looks forward to more multimodal projects to improve connections between East Valley communities.
Master of ceremonies
Grand Terrace Mayor Darcy McNaboe, president of the transportation authority board and master of ceremonies of the program, said the project provides a safe, reliable transportation alternative to East Valley communities.
“It connects thousands of residents to a commuting option that expands throughout Southern California and helps ease demand on one of our heaviest-traveled freeways, the I-10,” she said.
The 9-mile corridor will be a safe transit alternative to connect with education, business, family, recreation and many other destinations, McNaboe said. She noted the historic significance of railroads in Redlands that supported a thriving citrus industry in the 1900s.
“Just over my shoulder is the iconic Redlands station that was once a beacon for mobility, accessibility and prosperity,” she said.
While Redlands trains in the early 19th century helped established the Redlands citrus industry, highlighted by the Kite-Shaped Trail, which wound through the East Valley in a figure-8 route that boasted “no sight seen twice,” the industry faded in the mid-1900s.
Today’s riders could take a quick trip for a latte or a long commute to Los Angeles, McNaboe speculated. It could provide U of R students an easy trip to downtown restaurants or a family from Upland to visit a Redlands Bowl concert without worrying about traffic.
“Whatever the reason for the trip, I’m proud to be part of the agency that gave them the option of how to do it,” she said, “and the best part of this option is that it’s cleaner, quieter, cheaper and it operates differently from the train that you probably had in mind.”
The Arrow train will use the cleanest diesel technology available to generate power through an electric motor that turns the wheels, she said.
“Combined with the smaller, lighter vehicles that the Arrow will have, they make for a very efficient option,” McNaboe said.
The California Air Resources Board will provide a grant to the transportation authority to study zero-emission alternatives starting in February, she said.
“It would be the first of its kind in North America,” she said, a remark that drew a round of applause.
The trains are about a third the size of the standard Metrolink train, but can travel on the same tracks. They will average 35 mph.
Yucaipa Mayor Pro Tem David Avila, chairman of the Omnitrans board and a member of the transportation authority board, said the Arrow represents a new addition to a passenger service that already provides 10 million trips a year.
“Since 1985, Omnitrans has been delivering comprehensive, public conveyance in the San Bernardino Valley, including local express bus services, including SBX, shuttle services by OmniGo and our Access, which provides services for passengers with special needs,” he said.
Ominitrans is committed to providing a safe, reliable and convenient modern rail line, he said.
The final speaker was Stephanie Wiggins, CEO of Metrolink, who called the quest for zero emissions critical.
“The health of our community is depended on getting people out of their cars,” she said. “San Bernardino County and its investment in Arrow service is going to lead transformation of passenger rail Southern California,” Wiggins said.