BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda believes cargo should be rolling on the much-anticipated Brownsville West Rail Bypass International Bridge in about two months.
Earlier this year the expectation was that it would be ready by April but officials say there have been delays on the Mexican side. It is the first international rail bridge to be built between the United States and Mexico in over 100 years.
“As far as the construction is concerned on the U.S. side, we are done. On the Mexican side they are about 97, 98, percent completed. I think one of the issues we are having right now is the actual testing of the x-ray unit that was relocated on the Mexican side. They have done the actual relocation of the unit but the testing itself requires about a four- to six-week schedule,” Sepulveda told the Rio Grande Guardian, while attending a South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce function last Friday.
“That is where we are at right now. They (the Mexican authorities) are telling us that they think that by the first week in July it should be fully operational so if it is then I think we are going to be ready to roll trains through there. As far as we are concerned from our end, we are done. We have notified the State Department in writing that our construction is complete, our project on the U.S. side is operationally complete and so we are working with Congressman Vela and Senator Cornyn to try to get to have high level meetings with their Mexican counterparts to try to get a status on their end. But, from what we understand, the first week in July looks like a good schedule.”
Congressman Filemon Vela and Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez met with Acting Mexican Ambassador to the United States Alejandro Estivill on April 23. Vela said topics discussed included Special Secure Economic Zones on the U.S.-Mexico border, the timeframe of completion of the West Rail project, and reopening the dialogue on the proposed Weir Dam on our southern border.
“Our meeting with Ambassador Estivill represents a positive step forward on pressing issues in South Texas and in U.S.-Mexico relations generally,” said Vela, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.
Vela said he and Martinez spoke to Ambassador Estivill about the timeframe for opening the West Rail Bridge. “The West Rail project will redirect the railway to the northwestern area of Brownsville reducing traffic congestion at various points in the city,” Vela said.
Martinez added: “Ambassador Estivill assured us the opening of the West Rail is forthcoming by the summer. This meeting helps us better plan a timeframe for the opening of West Rail and reassures us we are on the right track. This is welcome news for the City of Brownsville.”
In addition to being Cameron County Judge, Sepulveda is executive director of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority and transportation director for Cameron County. As such, he has worked on the West Rail Bypass International Rail bridge project from the beginning.
In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian in January, Sepulveda, who at that point had not taken over as interim Cameron County Judge, said he was hopeful that Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto might officially open the new international bridge. “I think it is a great opportunity to bring the two presidents here. Think of the history. It was on Dec. 12, 1910, when they opened the B&M rail bridge between Brownsville and Matamoros. This is the first one since. There is so much happening in our region. It would great to have the presidents come down.”
Sepulveda said that on the U.S. side, Union Pacific will operate rail movements and on the Mexican side it will be Kansas City Southern Mexico. “This is only the second bridge that I have handled from day one to the end – the other one being the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge. So, I can probably write a book after this. It is all good. It is good for the community,” Sepulveda said.
Asked how important the new rail bridge will be, Sepulveda, in his interview last January, said it would be “huge,” both in terms of public safety and international trade.
Asked why the new rail bridge is important for public safety, Sepulveda said: “Just being able to open that up, place it in operation and eliminate the rail that goes through downtown areas, our parks and schools; that is huge. It is a quality of life project, making things a lot cleaner. I think it is going to be awesome for Brownsville.”
To understand how big a deal it is, Sepulveda suggested the success of the project should be contrasted with the wish list of other communities.
“I hear from the rail operators across the nation that there are a lot of communities that want to relocate rail out of urban areas to rural areas but they never get anywhere. In 15 years we have been through multiple mayors, county judges, governors, and not just on the U.S. side but on the Mexican side as well. I take my hat off to the political leadership at the county and the city that have stayed with the project and have continued to be focused and hopefully, six weeks from now we can have it complete.”
Asked if the new rail bridge will be important for the oil and gas shale extraction and distribution in the Burgos Basin in Mexico, Sepulveda said: “Yes, because of the direct connectivity to the Port of Brownsville. If the oil and gas boom happens, West Rail is going to be ideal because I think CBP and the rail operators will have a much broader window during the day to be able to take trains either southbound or northbound. I think it is perfect timing from that standpoint and hopefully if it does happen, the Port will be ready and we can get the additional rail traffic that we know the new bridge will be able to handle.”
Sepulveda added that international trade with Mexico generally will benefit. “This will really give everyone another option. Right now Brownsville is not utilized as an option. Southbound, yes, they take loaded cars but northbound it is strictly empty rail cars that are coming from other areas, from the interior of Mexico. I believe this will give rail operators a real option on switching traffic from other areas of the state to this area because we will have that broad window of operation during the day. They will be able to take trains southbound or northbound. It will give them another option. And, it is really good for the public, in terms of the quality of life, and the Port of Brownsville.”
Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying this story and the photos in the slide show were taken at on the new West Rail in February, 2015, when Congressman Filemon Vela and Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez took visiting congressmen to see the project. Since then, all the work on the U.S. side of the bridge has been complete.