|McALLEN, January 27 - If a high speed passenger rail line is to be built from San Antonio to Monterrey it should go through the Rio Grande Valley, says Keith Patridge, president and CEO of McAllen EDC.
The possibility of building the first passenger rail line between the U.S. and Mexico was discussed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Fox and border congressmen in Washington, D.C., ten days ago. The idea, which may be studied by the Texas Department of Transportation, was to link San Antonio and Monterrey via the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity Bridge, not the Valley.
But in an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the MEDC’s Patridge argued that the combined population on both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo south of Roma and Miguel Aleman demands that, say, McAllen-Reynosa be looked as the logical crossing point for the San Antonio to Monterrey line.
“If you look at the combined population on both sides of the river, we have almost 3.2 million people, from Starr County south to Brownsville. That is bigger than San Antonio. It would make us the 18th largest metro area in the nation, if we were all in the United States,” Patridge said.
The veteran economic development leader said he would like to see a high speed passenger service from San Antonio and Monterrey stop in McAllen and Reynosa. That way, he said, three major population centers would be served on the route.
“Transportation for people and freight is critical for the development of any area. The question I have is this: when you look at passenger rail you have to look at usage, you have to look at ridership. If you are going to connect to major cities, do you connect two major cities through an area where there is a smaller city or do you connect it through an alternative area where there is actually a population center in the middle that is larger than San Antonio?” Patridge asked.
“The whole question then becomes one of economics and ridership and it looks like the numbers are greater here (in the Valley) and this could ensure success for high speed passenger rail, here over what you could have in other areas.”
Patridge went on to say: “You bring a third big population center into the mix and it also serves as potentially right of way where you could also bring freight rail in beside it. That is how it is done in Europe and Asia. You have high speed rails and then right next to it the smaller local trains or the freight trains. That would allow us to have a rail corridor established where we could have freight rail and a passenger service altogether. So, I think from a strategic, statewide standpoint I think it is something we have got to look at.”
The advantage of having a San Antonio to Monterrey line crossing the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo at the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity Bridge is that the state of Nuevo León already has the right of way and permits in place from Monterrey to the border. This point was made to Secretary Fox by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and Diputado Marco Antonio González of Nuevo León at their meeting in Washington, D.C.
Asked if he had approached officials in Reynosa to see if they have the right of way and permitting in place between Monterrey and Reynosa, Patridge said: “No, we have not talked to folks in Reynosa about high speed rail. We have been focusing on freight. The thing about high speed rail is it requires its own right of way and it is all new construction. That is something we have not done.”
Patridge said his understanding of the right of way and permits for a Monterrey to Laredo line is that initially the plan was for freight, not passenger rail but the state of Nuevo León could not get any interest from the private sector in the U.S. “That says something about the economics of it,” Patridge said.
“If we had a rail line from Monterrey to Reynosa, most of it would run through Tamaulipas. So, this is where the right of way would have to be sought,” Patridge added.
Click here to read about the San Antonio to Monterrey high speed passenger rail project.
On Wednesday, the Texas Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing in McAllen on the possibility of high speed passenger rail going north from the Valley to Laredo, San Antonio and Houston. The meeting is being held at McAllen Public Library, starting at 5:30 p.m.
TxDOT received a $5 million grant from the federal government to study a possible high speed passenger rail network from Oklahoma City to Dallas-Fort Worth. From there, one route would go south to Houston and another to San Antonio via Austin. Another route, completing the triangle, would run from San Antonio to Houston.
Rep. Cuellar insisted the South Texas border region also be considered for high speed passenger rail and added an amendment to legislation requiring TxDOT to do so. Cuellar, D-Laredo, believes the San Antonio to Monterrey line could be the first part of the statewide network to get built because of the interest in Mexico.
TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer explained where things were at with her agency’s study. “Since 2012, TxDOT has been studying the feasibility of passenger rail service from Oklahoma to South Texas. Last week, the agency asked our federal partners for $400,000 to expand this exploration to include passenger rail down to Mexico,” Beyer said. “While the impact of such rail service through south Texas to Mexico is not in the scope of the current Texas/Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, we believe additional funding could address this possibility. It’s premature to speculate on its feasibility or the route it might follow.”