Houston, TX — With a network stretching across North America, freight rail has long been a crucial connector for American international trade. Indeed, roughly half of rail intermodal volume is directly associated with international trade and over a third of rail revenue is directly linked with that trade.
And in Laredo, Texas, the busiest U.S. international rail connection will soon get a boost from a massive private investment by Kansas City Southern (KCS). The railroad will invest $100 million to build a second international railway, helping to cement Laredo’s place as the No. I inland port in North America.
Originally opened in 1920, the Laredo International Railway Bridge is serviced by KCS and its Mexican-subsidiary Kansas City Southern de Mexico. The crossing currently facilitates 26 trains per day. Customs and safety inspections, crew swaps, and the limitations of the bridge prevent a quicker flow of trains and trades between the two counties.
A groundbreaking for the project was held on October 31 and its estimated completion date is October 2024. It will be 1,150 feet long and sit about 35 feet from the current bridge and, once complete, will enable one bridge to dedicate itself to handling the flow of trains from the U.S. into Mexico while the other handles traffic heading into the U.S.
“It will double capacity for us, because right now with the current rail bridge, we have crews working in four-hour windows — four hours of trains moving north and then four hours south,” said Oscar Del Cueto Cuevas, president of Kansas City Southern de Mexico. “With the new rail bridge, we’re going to have a 24/7 interchange between Mexico and the U.S. by rail… Trains will be moving north and south 24/7.”
The added capacity also opens a crucial backdoor to additional ports along the Pacific Ocean. Delays and backlogs related to the COVID-19 pandemic hindered operations at U.S. West Coast ports leading to reverberations down the supply chain, including within the freight rail industry. Added rail capacity via Laredo will provide additional shipping options through western Mexican ports like Lazaro Cardenas.
“When you do a $100 million investment for the bridge and the investments they have done in Nuevo Laredo and what they are doing on the U.S. side, it really means a lot,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) at the project groundbreaking.
Freight railroads routinely invest at high levels into their networks, as well as projects like the Laredo bridge, that make a difference to the communities connected by rail. This spending has averaged $20 billion annually over the last four decades—six times more as a percentage of revenue than the average U.S. manufacturer.
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz underscored what this project and the private dollars behind it mean for his community. “This is really historic. It has been over a hundred years since we built the first bridge. The fact the private sector is investing $100 million is a huge indicator of what they foresee in the future. That is economic growth and jobs throughout Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.”