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California State legislature introduced a bill in 1975 which created the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB). Designed to serve the needs of San Diego’s entire metropolitan area, MTDB immediately set a goal to establish a fixed-rail system of transit. Their plan met with considerable controversy. Five years later, however, the first line of the trolley was completed on schedule. The project came in under budget and did not require federal funding. While other west coast cities spent billions for their fixed-rail systems, the San Diego Trolley’s initial transit line cost only $86 million.
Through a fortunate set circumstances, MTDB was able to purchase the 108-mile track and right-of-way from the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad which ran between San Diego and the Imperial Valley. This saved the enormous costs that would have been incurred had MTDB pursued condemnation proceedings and the purchase of a new right-of-way. In addition, MTDB used available technology, choosing trains and equipment from previously established and proven designs.
The San Diego Trolley proved to be quick, efficient and required little maintenance. The bright red trains became popular with San Diegans and drew national and worldwide press coverage. Since establishment of the initial line between San Diego and the San Ysidro Border Crossing, additional lines have been constructed. Still more routes are planned for the future.