The following is a part of the TxDot October 2005 report titled “Texas Rail System Plan“
The state’s initial involvement in the preservation of rail lines came about as the result of an application to abandon the old Kansas City, Mexico & Orient line (otherwise known as the “South Orient” line) by the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe (ATSF). In 1989, the Commission provided a $3 million secured grant to the South Orient Rural Rail Transportation District towards the purchase from the ATSF. In return for the grant, TxDOT received the existing right-of-way for the rail line and a security interest in the installed rails and ties. The rail district entered into a lease and operating agreement with private investors, bringing about the formation of the South Orient Railroad Company (SORC). However, by 1998 SORC filed an abandonment application with the STB. In 1999, the Texas legislature appropriated $6 million towards the $9.5 million purchase price of the rail line from SORC. After almost two years of negotiations between all parties, TxDOT entered into a $3.5 million lease and operating agreement with Texas Pacifico Transportation (TXPF), securing the balance of the purchase price. At the same time TxDOT acquired all rights, titles, and interests in the rail line, thereby ensuring that ownership of the rail infrastructure and right-of-way would be preserved by the State.
The South Orient line, as one of only seven rail gateways between the United States and Mexico, has the potential to relieve some of the congestion at other border crossings through the diversion of rail traffic to the gateway at Presidio/Ojinaga. The 391-mile long line has had no significant rehabilitation since the early 1980s. The infrastructure contains rail manufactured between 1915 and 1966, including over 75 miles of jointed 70 pounds-per-yard rail. Current freight rail infrastructure is constructed of at least 115 pounds-per-yard rail. Increased traffic over the line would contribute to the rapid deterioration of the infrastructure, and a substantial rehabilitation program is necessary to sustain operation along the entire line. TXPF has begun the rehabilitation of the line to improve service and begin operations to the border, with an initial rehabilitation expenditure of roughly $9 million. Approximately 68,900 new ties have been purchased and installed at strategic locations on the line to enable operations along the entire length.
Through this resourceful partnership between TXPF and TxDOT, the state’s ownership of this rail line prevents its abandonment and scrapping of tangible assets by an operator, protects the State’s financial interests, and ensures the State of Texas’ commitment in determining the future of this vital transportation corridor. In February 2004, TxDOT received a U.S. Congressional earmark in the Omnibus Transportation Act of $5.5 million for further rehabilitation of the infrastructure. TxDOT is administering the expenditure of these funds; which includes the installation of approximately 34,700 ties between Alpine and Presidio on the mainline to increase train speeds, the improvement of two grade crossings in the city of Fort Stockton, and the rehabilitation of the Fort Stockton rail yard to enable economic development there. TxDOT has identified approximately $70 million in infrastructure needs on the line, and continues oversight and monitoring of the lease agreement and operations over the line.