UPDATED September 21, 2023 - TRA Newswire -

Border tensions have notched up as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) halted freight rail traffic at the Eagle Pass gateway into Mexico yesterday. BNSF Railway added a temporary embargo in El Paso, today.

The CBP action at the Rio Grande River in South Texas was due to the growing crisis of migrants trying to illegally enter the U.S. and endangering themselves by riding on freight cars. 

Union Pacific Railroad notified its customers that train traffic would be temporarily embargoed at Eagle Pass. Other UP gateways between Texas and Mexico already handle peak rail commerce and can not absorb the extra traffic.  In a statement to its shippers Union Pacific said "This (the embargo) will help us better manage your shipments during this dynamic and rapidly developing situation," UP informed customers. "We remain in communication with CBP and will continue normal operations at our other gateways."

In an online statement, BNSF said "due to safety and security concerns in the area, BNSF has issued an embargo (BNSF001723) on traffic destined for interchange with Ferromex (FXE) at both the Eagle Pass and El Paso junctions."  The statement also said "Through the embargo, BNSF is not currently accepting new shipments through El Paso. However, as conditions allow, they will be moving some shipments already in route. No permits are being issued at the present time. We will continue to keep you updated as this situation progresses."

Earlier this week Mexican railroad operator Ferromex stopped some 60 trains headed north to Texas following the death and serious injury of six migrants traveling as stowaways aboard the freight cars. The UP embargo and delayed commerce sitting on Ferromex trains, could cost the U.S. and Mexican economy millions of dollars each day. 

Ferromex, which is owned by conglomerate Grupo Mexico (GMEXICOB.MX), issued a statement saying that the presence of migrants in its railcars and rail yards had grown "significantly" in recent days,, with up to 4,000 occupying company property. 

The wave of unlawful border crossings prompted Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas to issue an emergency declaration, citing "severe undocumented immigrant surge," according to a Reuters report. 

Ferromex executives are scheduled to meet with members of the Mexican government and the CBP on Friday to discuss further measures that could be instituted. Those could include more private security on trains or use of Mexican police or their military. 

On some rail routes were there was no identified "heightened risk", Ferromex restarted rail operations on Wednesday.

One rail line that could have been used to divert traffic upstream from Eagle Pass is still out of service and not expected to be operational until 2024-2025. The South Orient Railroad's border crossing bridge over the Rio Grande at Presidio, in deep Southwest Texas, has been rebuilt but government red tape is delaying the rail link to restore Mexico-Texas commerce. A CBP facility, along with x-ray equipment to inspect freight cars crossing at the international border, is getting closer to becoming a reality, according to sources. The South Orient line is owned by the state of Texas and leased to TexasPacfico, which is a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico. 

Photo credit: Texas Rail Advocates