The Texas Department of Transportation held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the rebuilding of a burned-out railroad bridge that spanned across the Rio Grande, linking Texas and Mexico. Marc Williams, Deputy Executive Director for the Texas Department of Transportation, along Texas Transportation Commission Chairman J. Bruce Bugg Jr. and other officials from Texas and Mexico turned spades of dirt to signify the reconstruction of the South Orient rail line bridge that was damaged in a 2007 fire and destroyed by one in 2009.
“As one of the eight rail gateways between the United States and Mexico, this crossing is extremely important to the economy of Texas and the rest of the United States,” said Chairman Bugg. “Today’s groundbreaking is a testament to what strong partnerships can accomplish in creating transportation solutions. This project will have positive impacts on both the regional and national levels in support of our energy sector and local communities.”
The TxDOT-owned South Orient rail line, a 391-mile rail line running from the Texas-Mexico border at Presidio through San Angelo to just south of Coleman is operated under contract by private rail company Texas Pacifico Transportation, LTD (TXPF). TXPF will be responsible for the reconstruction of the bridge which is scheduled to be completed by September 2019.
In 2016 TxDOT, TXPF, the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce and other legislative and business interests met to make plans to reopen the destroyed railroad bridge, one of only eight cross-border rail lines between the U.S. and Mexico. In Texas, it is one of only five crossings. All of the other crossings are fully operational and extremely busy.
In addition, TxDOT has received a $7 million federal FASTLANE grant to rehabilitate 72 miles of track and additional bridges in Presidio County. The additional work will improve safety and train operations in support of the reconstruction of the Presidio Ojinaga international rail bridge.
“Cross-border trade is the lifeblood of many communities in my district, including Presidio. Restoring this crucial freight connection will create jobs, reduce arduous border wait times, and facilitate the flow of goods and services through the region. As one of five border crossings between Texas and Mexico, and one of only eight in the nation, these repairs are vital to Texas’ economy,” said U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who represents over 800 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. “I am proud to have helped TxDOT and Presidio secure federal grant funding to rebuild the Presidio-Ojinaga International Railroad and am thankful that TxDOT is working to restore it to a safe and efficient connector that delivers goods throughout our state.”
“This project is a perfect example of Texas, the United States Government, the Mexican Government and private industry working together to promote international trade and will be of great benefit to House District 74,” said Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez. “I look forward to continuing to work with our state, federal and international partners on such projects in the future.”
The South Orient line has seen significant growth since 2010. Last year the railroad hauled 43,757 carloads of cargo up from an average of just 2,000 cars a year between 2001-2009. All of the rail traffic today is along the line from Coleman to Fort Stockton. With the opening of the international rail bridge, it will provide a rail connection from West Texas to new markets in Mexico for oil, gas, and agriculture.
The South Orient line was almost abandoned until the Texas Legislature stepped in prior to 2001 and purchased it. 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 bridge is located.