February 18, 2024 - TRA Newwire -

No trains over the Rio Grande at Presidio, yet. But it's getting closer.

It's frustrating that a brand new, sturdy international rail bridge over the Rio Grande River at the Texas-Mexico line, built after a wooden structure burned down over a decade ago is still closed to cross-border freight rail traffic.

A series of setbacks and bureaucratic snafus have pushed the opening of the bridge for freight trains that will traverse from Mexico's West coast to Texas cities and beyond into 2025. 

A bid posted by the Texas Department of Transportation for an estimated $33 million dollar Customs and Border Protection inspection station at the Texas border received no bids from any company.  Part of the confusion over the bidding process may have been that the information to construct a "Trade Processing Center on a Texas/Mexico border rail line" was tucked in with a series of roadway construction and maintenance projects out for bid tagged to the El Paso TxDOT Highway District.

Construction of the CBP inspection site, which aims to intercept illegal activity without impeding the flow of trade, is something that TxDOT does not deal with in their normal bidding cycle, so its speculated that building contractors would not have been gleaning over the list.

The CBP center, will contain a NII (non-invasive inspection) machine is required to view the contents of each freight rail car as it enters the U.S., just as it is done at other rail checkpoints in Texas and elsewhere. Our sources indicate that the NII inspection equipment, once thought to take 18-24 months to obtain, may actually be ready to be installed before the CBP facility is even constructed. 

The Rio Grande rail bridge, between Ojinaga, Mexico and Presidio, in deep Southwest Texas, was destroyed in a 2008 fire.  Major flooding had shifted the shape of the land and riverbank underneath the bridge, requiring major engineering intervention, according to a news article in the Big Bend Sentinel.

The rail line, referred to as the South Orient Railroad, is owned by the state of Texas and leased to TexasPacifico Transportation (TXPF). 

After years of working to obtain agreements between various state and federal agencies, TxDOT posted the first bid for the CBP facility in spring 2023 (see chart below). Unfortunately, there were no takers for the project. Another letting is scheduled for early March so contractors interested in a $33 million dollar project should take note.

CCSJ: 7124-01-006

District:EL PASOLet Date:Apr 2023
Highway:CRLet Status:Tentative
Project ID:STP ()TPCSJ:7124-01-006

Adam Hammons, spokesperson for TxDOT, was able to confirm that the contract to purchase the NII machine had finally been secured. “TxDOT is set to work on improvements to the crossing, which are expected to begin in the first half of 2024,” he wrote to The Big Bend Sentinel. 

The railroad was originally the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient which provided service from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to Presidio, destined for the West coast of Mexico. The ATSF (Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe) which operated a line from Galveston to Brownwood and San Angelo Junction, TX, purchased the line in 1928. ATSF sold the line to the South Orient Railroad Company in 1992.

The South Orient line was almost abandoned until the Texas Legislature stepped in prior to 2001 and purchased it. TexasPacifico Transportation Ltd. (TXPF) then leased the line from the State of Texas also in 2001. TXPF is currently owned by Grupo Mexico who also owns three railroad related companies: Ferromex, Ferrosur, and Intermodal Mexico. 

The rail line runs from a junction with BNSF Railway near Coleman, Texas and extends through San Angelo, Mertzon, Big Lake, Fort Stockton and onward to Alpine where it meets the Union Pacific Sunset route. A few miles to the west it diverges south to the Texas Mexico border in Presidio where the international bridge is located.