12:07 AM PDT on Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

A plan to bring passenger rail service to Redlands by using refurbished Metrolink cars rather than a light rail line will be the subject of two public meetings this week.

Construction will begin in 18 months to two years with improvements to an existing rail line from San Bernardino to Redlands. That work is expected to take about two years, said Tim Watkins, of San Bernardino Associated Governments, the San Bernardino County transportation agency overseeing the project.

By about 2015, commuters should be able to travel from the University of Redlands to Cal State San Bernardino by taking the rail line to downtown San Bernardino and connecting with the sbX bus rapid transit system that will begin operating in 2014.

Additionally, if an express train to Los Angeles that Metrolink is debuting on Monday becomes successful, Redlands commuters would be able to travel to Union Station in just over an hour, Watkins said.

Planners settled on passenger rail service to Redlands after considering light rail and diesel trains. Light rail was preferred, but ruled out because of the cost.

In later phases, the project could switch over to light rail, Watkins said. By waiting until after the track improvements have been done, the cost will be lower and the project could qualify for federal funds, he said.

SANBAG will be able to use money from Measure I, a voter-approved sales tax increase, for the track improvements and to refurbish the Metrolink cars, he said.

The route will include three stops in Redlands — at New York Street, the Santa Fe depot downtown and the University of Redlands, Watkins told the Redlands City Council last week.

Eventually, the route could have up to 10 stops.

The plan is beginning to build some buzz, he said.

“It’s gone from kind of fuzzy and now all of a sudden it’s getting very, very clear,” he said. “That clarity is bringing excitement to the project.”

SANBAG will hold two information meetings this week — on Wednesday at Esri, a geographic information systems software company in Redlands, and Thursday at the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino.

Planners will discuss the route and answer questions.

“It’s really beneficial for us to hear from the public,” Watkins said.

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