No trains will be able to cross the newly rebuilt Presidio, Texas-Ojinaga, Mexico international rail bridge until the Texas legislature appropriates $35 million for the final touch, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection facility in this remote Texas border town.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is asking for the $35 million in general revenue funds as part of a multi-year rehabilitation of the South Orient Railroad, which is state owned and leased to operator TexasPacifico. The border inspection and train processing facility would open up a key rail link between the two countries that has been dormant for years.
TxDOT made it clear in an appropriations budget request that "no railcars will move across the international bridge at Presidio if a border inspection facility is not provided. TxDOT does not have a source of funding for the development of the facility." General revenue is the requested funding mechanism because there are no other eligible sources available, according to TxDOT. The state legislature, to date, has not provided a revenue stream for important rail projects as it does for highways.
Rail operator TexasPacifico indicated that they will take responsibility for funding all future upgrades to the 376 mile railroad, estimated at an additional $58 million, once the existing TxDOT-managed federally sponsored FASTLANE Presidio County rehabilitation is completed.
A TxDOT 'Exceptional Item Request Schedule' sent to legislative appropriators for the current session indicates that "the ability of TexasPacifico to fund future upgrades to the railroad infrastructure and continue to develop the usefulness of the South Orient Rail Line as a transportation asset to the region and the state of Texas is dependent upon reopening the Presidio international crossing to commercial rail traffic."
U.S. CBP said that they will not provide funding for the border inspection facility and that it is a state responsibility to build.
“This is an important international rail link between Mexico and Texas that could drive a lot of commerce through Southwest Texas to North Texas and beyond,” according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. “TRA has long been supportive of rebuilding the international rail bridge and it’s sad that the holdup of the federal border facility is keeping an economically depressed area of Texas from seeing the light of day." Presidio Mayor John Furgeson said “Presidio is a low economic community so any time we can create more jobs we are going to be excited about that. We’re doing everything we can to make this railroad successful.”
The South Orient Railroad extends from San Angelo Junction near Coleman through Fort Stockton, San Angelo and Alpine to Presidio in deep Southwest Texas. The line has already been rehabilitated from San Angelo Junction through San Angelo and on toward Alpine.
In December a TexasPacifico 100-car train made the 85-mile trip on the mothballed subdivision between Alpine to Presidio for the first time in 15 years, spreading ballast and testing the rails all the way to the Texas-Mexico border bridge. TxDOT Rail Division Director Peter Espy said that “this was a quiet and impressive milestone in the rebirth of the South Orient.” The original wooden-timber bridge at the Rio Grande crossing was destroyed in a fire and the line had been out of service since 2008.
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, who operated the line until it was sold to the State of Texas in 2001. 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. Today, TXPF is benefitting tremendously from its proximity to the Permian Basin shale play. The vast majority of railcars moved by TXPF are directly related to the fracing of oil wells in one of the country’s largest reserves.