DALLAS — A passenger rail line expected to begin in Juarez, Mexico, could cross the international boundary into El Paso, Tex., under a plan the sister cities are considering.
At a meeting of the El Paso City Council Tuesday, Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said the rail line on the Mexican side of the border is “a certainty,” with service expected by 2013 at the earliest. Creating a connecting line on the U.S. side could provide a viable mass transit solution for one of the busiest border crossings between the two countries, he said.
In a unanimous 7-to-0 vote, the City Council adopted a resolution to work with Mexican officials to make the rail line possible. The cost of such a project has not been estimated.
Support for the idea came not just from city officials, but from state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, one of the most powerful members of the Texas Legislature. Shapleigh said that he was advocating a rail corridor that could run from El Paso to Denver on the U.S. side and cross over into Juarez and beyond.
El Paso and Las Cruces, N.M., are considering extending New Mexico’s Rail Runner commuter line down to El Paso at a cost of $1 million per mile of track.
Rail Runner, part of Gov. Bill Richardson’s GRIP — Gov. Richardson’s Investment Partnership — bond program, opened for service this year between Albuquerque and Santa Fe amid a controversy over how the bonds were marketed.
Richardson was cleared of wrongdoing after a lengthy grand jury investigation.
Rail Runner was also plagued with cost overruns that drew sharp criticism from state legislators.
Reyes Ferriz said that Juarez is preparing to sign agreements with Ferromex, the Mexican railroad company, for the use of its tracks for the commuter line. Juarez envisions using an existing freight rail bridge over the Rio Grande to connect with El Paso. That would require approval of U.S. agencies, as well as the railroads that use the bridge.
Commuter rail, unlike light rail, typically uses existing freight rail lines, allowing dramatically lower start-up costs. A commuter rail line connects the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, and Austin is planning to inaugurate service from its northern suburbs to downtown in early 2010.
Other commuter rail lines are under consideration between Austin and San Antonio and along the Rio Grande in South Texas.
So far, Austin has managed to develop its rail line using federal money without issuing bonds. However, the bond program that built New Mexico’s Rail Runner was the largest in its history, including massive outlays for highways, as well.
Although El Paso has no light-rail project that could feed off the commuter line, city officials are promoting a system that would operate under the city transit agency Sun Metro.