Delayed Presidio International Rail Bridge project to chug on into 2025

This section of railroad –– which hasn’t seen a train since 2009 –– has become densely overgrown. Staff photo by Sam Karas.

PRESIDIO — The timeline for reopening the international rail bridge between Presidio and Ojinaga has been pushed back a few months, with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) estimating that the line will now reopen in summer 2025, rather than December of 2024. The project will allow commercial rail service between Presidio and Ojinaga for the first time since a fire destroyed the bridge in 2008. 

The delay is mostly due to difficulties in securing an X-ray machine for the future Customs and Border Protection inspection station at the bridge. The agency refers to the unit as an “NII” machine, an acronym for “non-invasive inspection” that aims to intercept illegal activity without impeding the flow of trade. 

Adam Hammons, spokesperson for TxDOT, was able to confirm that the contract to purchase the NII machine had finally been secured. “TxDOT is set to work on improvements to the crossing, which are expected to begin in the first half of 2024,” he wrote to The Big Bend Sentinel.

Despite the delays, the news is a positive step forward in a nearly 15-year saga. After the bridge’s destruction in 2008, construction would not begin again until 2018. Major flooding had shifted the shape of the land and riverbank underneath the bridge, requiring major engineering intervention. 

Parallel to the also-delayed process of opening two new lanes on the vehicle-and-pedestrian bridge upstream, the railroad project has a lot of moving parts. The redesign has required coordination between the City of Presidio, Presidio County, International Boundary and Water Commission, Customs and Border Protection, Texas Pacifico Railroad and HDR Engineering, per TxDOT Spokesperson Tanya Brown. 

Though the former bridge was a century old, modern rail operations were assumed by Ferromex, a rail company owned in part by mining and logistics corporation Grúpo México and the U.S.-based Union Pacific Railroad. 

In 2000, Ferromex was the only bidder on international operations at the end of the South Orient Line, which ran — and will run again — between Ojinaga and Presidio. The Mexican line ends at the Pacific port town of Topolobampo, connecting local markets in Texas with interior Mexico and the rest of the world. 

Ferromex oversees rail operations on the Mexican side of the border, and subsidiary company Texas Pacifico will oversee the line from the U.S. The bridge is owned by TxDOT — just like the international vehicle bridge, it is the only international rail bridge owned by the agency. 

The rail bridge between Presidio and Ojinaga has been ready for use since 2021 –– but may have to wait until summer 2025 to see the first official crossing. Staff photo by Sam Karas.

Texas Pacifico was responsible for replacing the wooden remains of the ruined bridge with a modernized steel structure, which was completed in May 2021. In October of that year, the Legislature approved a $15.5 million earmark to complete the project from the state’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Stan Meador of Texas Pacifico — which leases the bridge from the state of Texas — explained that the ball was now squarely in the state’s court.  “We’ve met our obligation,” he said.