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McALLEN, RGV – A high-speed passenger rail line between San Antonio and Monterrey is going to happen, says state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond.

The Laredo Democrat made the prediction at a news conference held at Laredo City Hall on Monday.

State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo.
State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo.

The news conference was held to discuss local rail projects and immediately followed a private meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and officials from the City of Laredo, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Federal Rail Administration, Customs and Border Protection and two private freight rail companies.

After the news conference, Laredo leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Consejo Mexicano de Comercio Exterior, a Mexican business association that focuses on foreign trade.

Raymond said that after Cuellar worked to get federal funds for a study into the possibility of high-speed rail projects, including a line from San Antonio to Monterrey, he worked at the state level to make sure TxDOT included this portion of the route in the study.

“That is an important project. That will happen. We are going to have something from San Antonio south,” Raymond said.

Previously, the governor’s office in Nuevo Leon has said it has all the necessary permits in place to build a high-speed line from Monterrey to Nuevo Laredo. The goal is for a two-hour commute between San Antonio and Monterrey, with Laredo the only stopping point.

Much of the discussion at Monday’s news conference focused on freight rather than passenger rail. Raymond said it is important that all agencies of government, be they federal, state, city, or county work together with the private sector to continue to build on what has already been achieved in Laredo. “Where we are today didn’t happen just because. It happened because so many people decided we are going to be No. 1 in trade and continue to grow that,” Raymond said.

A number of speakers pointed out that Laredo is the No. 1 land port in the nation for trucks, rail and buses. Raymond said Laredo must not lose the economic competitive advantage it holds, while at the same time ensuring public safety.

“We want people to move here, we do not want to lose our economic competitive edge. We can do that. We have gotten to the point today where we are tremendously competitive on the economics of it and more and more people are moving to Laredo. We continue to be one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. We want to continue on that track,” Raymond said.

Raymond thanked Congressman Cuellar for putting the meeting together and then added that Laredo has a seat at the table on TxDOT’s Freight Advisory Committee, thanks to the presence of Uni-Trade Group President Luis Humberto Hinojosa. “I am proud that we have somebody from Laredo sitting there with those ten people from around the state saying we are important, we are an important part of the whole picture of the state of Texas.”

In his remarks at the news conference, Cuellar said this is a big week for Laredo. In addition to the MOU signing with COMCE, Cuellar referenced the much-anticipated U.S.-Mexico Cargo Pre-Inspection pilot program to be unveiled at Laredo International Airport on Thursday.

Cuellar then outlined some of the discussions on rail issues that took place in the morning meeting. He said that David P. Higgerson, director of field operations for CBP’s Laredo Field Office, was in the meeting, along with Gregory Alvarez, CBP’s port director for the Laredo Port of Entry.

“David Higgerson said that probably within the next five years trade (with Mexico) is going to increase by 40 percent. You know that most of it will be coming through Laredo,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said that probably by February the Government Accountability Office will release a study Cuellar had asked for on how to make international rail crossings in the United States more efficient. Meanwhile, he said, local stakeholders are looking at ways in which customs staff in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo can share state-of-the-art x-ray technology to inspect rail cargo, employ train crews that can work on both sides of the border, allow the Federal Rail Administration to inspect rail cars at the Sanchez rail yard in Nuevo Laredo, and minimize the number of rail crossing points in downtown Laredo. On this last point, Cuellar said Union Pacific believes it can close up to 30 percent of its rail crossings in the Laredo area but it will need some financial help from the government to do so.

“If trade is going to increase by 40 percent, according to Customs, in the next five years, how do we keep Laredo and Nuevo Laredo very competitive? With a lot of coordination, we can do this,” Cuellar added.

In his remarks, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said one of his goals is to avoid rail congestion in the inner city of Laredo. “We are talking about joint technology, the technology where a train can go possibly 20, 30, miles an hour and the train can be scanned,” Saenz said. The fact that we can pre-clear agricultural plants on the Mexican side, before they reach the U.S., that is huge. I think the template has been established at our airport and has been established in Brownsville. It is just a matter of continuing those models and expanding them. Obviously, Laredo is the No. 1 land port. We want to continue to be the No. 1 land port, to stay competitive. That means jobs.”

Editor’s Note: Pictured in the main photo accompanying this story are, from left to right, Lic. Eduardo A. Garza Robles, Chairman of Trade Advisory Committee; Guillermo Dillon Montaña, Director General, CAINTRA Nuevo Leon; Jose F. Gomez Martinez, President, COMCE Noreste; Richard Peña Raymond, 42nd District, Texas House of Representatives; Henry Roberto Cuellar, U.S. Representative for 28thCongressional District; Pete Saenz, Jr., Mayor, City of Laredo; Hector Villarreal Muraira, Director General, COMCE Noreste; Jesus M. Olivares, City Manager, City of Laredo. They participated in a press conference and MOU signing ceremony in the Council Chambers at Laredo City Hall on Monday, November 9, 2015. Héctor Samuel Peña Guzmán, Subsecretario de Inversión y Fomento, Industrial del Estado de Nuevo León, was also at the event but is not in the picture.