March 29, 2024 - TRA Newswire (Austin) -

Reopening of the Rio Grande rail bridge, between Ojinaga, Mexico and Presidio, in deep Southwest Texas took a giant step forward Thursday when the Texas Transportation Commission approved letting of a $33 million project for a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection facility. 

The bridge over the Rio Grande is now fully restored for international freight rail service on the South Orient Line but awaits the completion of the inspection station that contains a NII (non-invasive inspection) machine before trains can roll through West Texas. That equipment 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. 

The brand new, steel and concrete international rail bridge over the Rio Grande River at the Texas-Mexico line, was built after the original wooden structure burned down in 2008. Texas Rail Advocates had been working with stakeholders since 2008 to push for reopening of the international rail bridge. The bridge and facility project required extensive ongoing meetings and cooperation between Texas and federal agencies and the Mexican government to get the project to its current state. Groundbreaking for the new bridge was in October 2018.

One of the biggest engineering challenges was rebuilding the track at a higher elevation, since construction of the new-and-improved levees to protect Presidio from major flooding partially buried the remains of the bridge 

Once the Presidio bridge reopens, freight trains can traverse from Mexican west coast ports through West Texas to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and beyond. Tentative date for completion is into 2025. it will also provide a rail connection from West Texas to new markets in Mexico for oil, gas, and agriculture. It is only one of five international rail crossings in Texas and eight total in the U.S. 

Stan Meador, Vice-President of TexasPacifico Transportation (TXPF) , the rail operator on the state-owned railroad, appeared before the Texas Transportation Commission at their monthly meeting in Austin. "We express our appreciation to the Commission and to the Department of Transportation for its perseverance in bringing the entire line, including the newly built bridge in Presidio, Texas back to life". 

Joining Meador were a number of supporters from the San Angelo Economic Development Agency, investors, and other rail operators. Meador said "they are all working tirelessly in anticipation of re-establishing cross-border connectivity at the rail crossing at Presidio and Ojinaga, Mexico. Once we have that connectivity there will be robust business along the way."

Meador thanked the staff of the TxDOT Rail Division who had been working on the project for many years. 

Already, an industrial rail park is under development outside of San Angelo and other parties are starting to take interest about developing rail-served businesses in Fort Stockton and elsewhere. 

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.

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.”

With a $15.5 million dollar appropriation secured from the Texas House and Senate in 2021, plans moved forward to build the U.S.  CBP train inspection station at Presidio. The state appropriation, along with federal funding,  comprised the $33 million required for the inspection facility. The funding came from $7.2 billion in the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

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.

Photo credit: Marfa Public Radio