Railroads serving the U.S.-Mexico border region are telling customers to expect two more weeks of shipment detours from the hurricane and flood disruptions to rail service through Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo on the Mexico side.
That’s assuming things go well in repairing a vital rail bridge about 50 miles south of Nuevo Laredo and north of the important industrial center of Monterrey. It could take longer.
Kansas City Southern handles rail traffic at Laredo, the busiest U.S.-Mexico border crossing for freight, and connects below there to its Kansas City Southern de Mexico subsidiary that operates a sprawling rail concession in that country.
This week KCS told customers “it will be a matter of a few weeks, without further complications, before service can be restored over the Anahuac Bridge” that spans the Salado River. After Hurricane Alex made landfall June 30 and swamped much of the area, another storm system about a week later washed over the saturated region.
When the water receded enough, KCS said its inspectors found “significant damage” to the bridge approaches. On July 14 the carrier said it still needed to wait days longer for water levels to fall enough for a complete damage assessment or to start repairs.
On July 15, Union Pacific Railroad said “it is currently estimated that the line between Laredo and Monterrey could be out of service for an additional two weeks.” Meanwhile, UP is detouring Laredo-bound traffic through other Texas gateways at Eagle Pass to the west and Brownsville to the east.
But UP also said Brownsville is limited in how much extra traffic it can handle while normal routes are embargoed, so “customers should not bill cars to Mexico via the Brownsville or Laredo gateways until the embargoes have been canceled.”
KCSM said “the vast majority” of its rail network in Mexico is operating, and it is working with U.S. and Mexico customs officials at Brownsville and the Mexican city of Matamoros to extend service hours for rail facilities in that border area. It is also steadily restoring service, the carrier said.
Even with all those efforts, though, KCSM said “during this period the reroute and detour options that we will be utilizing will not have the capacity to handle the volume of trains that we normally handle over the main line from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey.”
Already, the trucking system that hauls a large amount of freight across the border is trying to work through large backlogs of storm-delayed shipments, leaving trucks in miles-long backups once the Laredo highway crossing reopened this week.
The rail service problems could put more pressure on the truck network. KCS and other railroads haul intermodal loads north from Mexico’s ports, plus auto parts and a range of other manufactured goods.
The truck and rail service is vital to commerce for both countries. Mexico is the third-largest U.S. trading partner, and with Canada they share in the North American Free Trade Area of lowered tariffs to foster more cross-border trade.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.