Concrete flyover in San Bernardino County was constructed to speed up cargo and lessen diesel emissions from waiting trains. The project came in under budget and ahead of schedule.
By Dan Weikel, August 28, 2013
A Metrolink train passes under the new flyover intended to relieve train traffic congestion at Colton Crossing.
One of the worst railway chokepoints in the nation was eliminated
Wednesday with the opening of a $93-million overpass that separated two
busy tracks at historic Colton Crossing in San Bernardino County.
Under a hot morning sun,
federal, state and local officials cut the ribbon for the 1.4-mile
concrete flyover designed to speed cargo through Southern California and
stop harmful diesel emissions from trains that used to wait up to four
hours for their turn to go through the old street-level crossing.
"Nov. 8, 2011, was the groundbreaking," said Raymond W. Wolfe,
executive director of the San Bernardino Assn. of Governments. "Two
short years later, we are now celebrating a new era in railroading. It's
truly an engineering feat for those who build infrastructure."
Originally estimated to cost
$202 million, the project was completed well under budget and eight
months ahead of schedule. Officials attributed the cost and time savings
to innovative construction techniques, cooperation among government
agencies and a competitive market that produced bids that were lower
The 43-foot-high span replaces Colton Crossing, built in 1883. It is
about 57 miles east of Los Angeles. Over the years, the crossing for
what became the main tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. remained largely unchanged, except for modern track and signals.
Located off Interstate 10 near Rancho Avenue, the old crossing saw
Burlington Northern's north-south tracks intersect Union Pacific's
east-west tracks at right angles, forcing trains to proceed one at a
time. More than 100 trains use the tracks daily, including those of the Metrolink commuter service, which shares the Union Pacific route.
Because Burlington Northern controlled the crossing for years and
gave its trains priority, Union Pacific suffered the vast majority of
delays, with many of its trains halted just short of West Colton Yard,
one of the Union's Pacific's largest freight facilities.
Robert Kern, a veteran Union Pacific engineer who is now a senior
operations manager, recalled that he could make a run from Yuma, Ariz.,
to Colton — about 200 miles — in seven or eight hours only to be stopped
at the crossing for one to two more hours before he could proceed into
nearby Colton yard. Occasionally, he said, the delay lasted four hours.
"You can't imagine how disheartening that was," Kern said. "This project will be a godsend."
Regional transportation planners say the chronic delays in rail
shipments made the Colton flyover a priority for goods movement in
Southern California, especially for the ports of Los Angeles and Long
Beach, the largest combined harbor in the United States.
Almost half of all U.S. imports shipped in cargo containers flow
through Los Angeles and Long Beach before they travel by truck and train
to other parts of the country. If trends continue, the amount of
containerized cargo handled by both ports is projected to increase from
5% to 6.6% annually until 2020.
The flyover project is a public-private partnership involving Caltrans,
the San Bernardino Assn. of Governments, the city of Colton, Union
Pacific and Burlington Northern. Funding came from the railroads as well
as state and federal sources, including the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act and Proposition 1B, which provides money for
goods-movement projects in California.