MARFA, Texas — Politicians in Chihuahua, Mexico and the West Texas county of Presidio have announced that a long-awaited rail connection linking large Mexican ports in Sinaloa and Michoacan to Texas will break ground in 2015.
Until 2006, freight line connecting Mexico with Texas called the South Orient Express brought goods from the Mexican port of Lázaro Cárdenas in Michoacan into Texas at the international crossing at Ojinaga, Chihuahua and Presidio, Texas.
But reviving the line has been blocked by red tape and and the difficulty of easing trade on the border in a post-9/11 world.
“We’ll be able to have engineering start this year with construction starting in 2015,” said Judge Paul Hunt, the chief elected politician in Presidio County.
He was with a U.S. delegation that welcomed Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in November when he told citizens at a town hall meeting in Ojinaga that improving rail and road connections was critical to reviving an economy that’s stalled along this part of the Texas-Mexico border.
Hunt says it will take more than platitudes to make a restored connection reality.
“There is one bottleneck, one big bottleneck," he sad. "And that’s that the bridge need to be restored. Once we get the bridge across the Rio Grande there at Presidio restored, then I think you’ll find that the upgrades necessary to increase the possibility of that line will start to happen. But right now it’s stopped cold at the river.”
Hunt says Texas and the International Boundary and Water Commission — the permanent bilateral group that governs border water issues and all international crossings — are working out details on the specs for a new rail link.
So keen are Mexican politicians that the governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte, recently pitched
Asian investors on building locomotives in depots strung along the border, part of a border infrastructure initiative both Duarte and Peña are currently pitching to their respective levels of government.
The South Orient once connected to a rail line in Mexico at the international rail bridge between Presidio and Ojinaga. Fire destroyed a portion of the rail bridge in 2008. The next year a second section of the bridge near Presidio was also scarred by fire. The U.S. portion of the rail bridge hasn’t been built.
Marfa City Council Member David Beebe has lobbied for a restored rail line at Presido/Ojinaga. He recently saw the results of a preliminary study complied by stakeholder agencies on the Texas side.
“It has been deemed to be worth doing which is a major, major step," Beebe said. "That’s a step we never thought would happen five years ago. I didn’t and we were always crossing our fingers for it. Now the key is to be the people who knock on the doors and say, Hey when is it coming? What do we have to do next?"
Required presidential orders from Washington and Mexico City might be next.
They are needed to get construction underway on any international crossing linking Mexico and the United States. Once the International Boundary and Water Commission finishes its work, there's renewed hope that a major renovation and expansion of the existing bridge will take place.