Two heavy haul locomotives pulling a 100 car ballast train from Alpine, Texas have made their way over the long mothballed South Orient Railroad line to Presidio, in deep Southwest Texas. This was the first train, earlier this month, to use the tracks in over 15 years when the wooden international rail bridge across the Rio Grande River burned down.
Train operator Texas Pacifico (TXPF), which leases the line from the state of Texas, hauled the ballast from Alpine with two 4,300 HP locomotives, transited across the Union Pacific Valentine subdivision to Paisano Junction and traveled 72 miles on the Alpine Division, arriving in Presidio on December 13th. Along the way ballast was distributed on the tracks from each car carrying up to 100 tons of rock. Sources say this may well be the longest and heaviest train ever to operate over this part of the rugged South Orient line.
The train load is rock and will be used for upgrades of the rail road bed so freight trains can travel up to 25 mph.
TxDOT Rail Division Director Peter Espy said that "this was a quiet and impressive milestone in the rebirth of the South Orient."
Presidio Mayor John Furgeson said "Presidio is a low economic community so any time we can create more jobs we are going to be excited about that. We're doing everything we can to make this railroad successful."
Texas Pacifico is expected to start operations in the city of Presidio this coming spring and the newly built concrete bridge across the Rio Grande, jointly owned by the Mexican Government and the state of Texas, is now described as being substantially rebuilt. But rail traffic across The Presidio–Ojinaga International Rail Bridge has one last big obstacle to overcome before trains can start rolling. U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement is requiring a $30 million operational facility with security, lights and fencing to inspect trains that cross the border.
No federal or state funds have yet to be identified to construct the $30 million dollar federal inspection facility so that cross-border trains can start service. Rail Division Director Espy said that "I just wish we could get the line into service for international operation sooner."
"This is an important international rail link between Mexico and Texas that could drive a lot of commerce through Southwest Texas to North Texas and beyond," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "TRA has long been supportive of rebuilding the international rail bridge and it's sad that the holdup of a $30 million dollar federal border facility is keeping an economically depressed area of Texas from seeing the light of day."
When operational the South Orient line would be the sixth railroad that crosses the U.S.-Mexican border and would help to relieve other rail chokepoints in Laredo, Eagle Pass and El Paso.
The 385-mile long South Orient line, which runs from San Angelo Junction near Coleman, Texas to Presidio is privately operated under a lease from the Texas Department of Transportation to Ferromex subsidiary Texas Pacifico Transportation.