The last stumbling block holding up moving freight rail traffic across the Rio Grande between Texas and Mexico in deep Southwest Texas was removed by the state legislature Tuesday.
With a $15.5 million dollar appropriation secured from the Texas House and Senate, plans can now move forward to build a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) train inspection station at Presidio so international rail commerce can restart between Texas and Ojinaga Mexico. Texas Representative Eddie Morales spoke on the House Floor late Monday about the importance of the inspection station not just to Presidio, but for the rest of the state.
Senate Bill 8 in the 3rd Special Session now goes to Governor Abbott for his signature.
The state appropriation, along with federal funding, will comprise the $33 million required for the inspection facility. The funding comes from $7.2 billion in the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund.
The rail line segment from Alpine to Presidio had been mothballed since 2008 when fire destroyed the wooden trestle over the Rio Grande between the two countries.
Since the bridge had been out of service for so long, many of the improvements that needed to be made to the CBP facilities had lapsed. Needs include an X-Ray Machine, as well as lighting, fencing, and other miscellaneous improvements to ensure that rail imports and exports can move through safely and efficiently.
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 (TXPF). TXPF was responsible for the reconstruction of the bridge across the Rio Grande.
"It is full steam ahead with the permanent facilities buildout that TxDOT is managing" according to Stan Meador, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for TexasPacifico. "Our efforts (TXPF) to get temporary operating status are ongoing, but this is a big step forward."
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. Texas Rail Advocates had been working with stakeholders since 2008 to push for reopening of the international rail bridge.
In a statement, Representative Morales said "thank you to Chairman Bonnen and Representative Drew Darby (San Angelo) for working with me to ensure that these funds were appropriated for the Presidio CBP Station to expand trade opportunities. This bi-partisan support for these funds shows that we can do more for Texas when we work together and reach across the aisle. The City of Presidio can once again utilize the South Orient Rail Line to bring back rail trade to their community. This is a critical piece of trade infrastructure for the State of Texas, and the United States as a whole. I look forward to the growth and prosperity that this region will inevitably see in the near future."
At a groundbreaking ceremony for the rebuilt international bridge in 2018 Texas Transportation Commission Chairman J. Bruce Bugg Jr. said "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. This project will have positive impacts on both the regional and national levels in support of our energy sector and local communities.”
Previously TxDOT received a $7 million federal FASTLANE grant to rehabilitate 72 miles of track and additional bridges in Presidio County. The additional work improved safety and train operations in support of the reconstruction of the Presidio-Ojinaga international rail bridge.
With the pending 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.