El Paso Juarez

El Paso and Juarez Plan Transit Link

» Project would span international boundary, but it’s unclear how immigration law would be upheld.

Counselors in both El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico agreed this week to support the creation of a fixed-corridor transit line connecting their two cities. A new line, probably rail, could use existing bridges and track to reinforce a link that tens of thousands of people cross today in automobiles or by foot. An hour-long wait is common for Mexicans attempting to enter the United States. Other than speeding movement, however, there are few specifics offered about the project, which seems more of a pipe dream than a serious proposal.

The project’s ambition brings to mind the still-born effort to stage the 2016 Summer Olympics in San Diego and neighboring Tijuana. In that case, a local attempt at bi-national unity was superseded by higher level administrators who feared the logistical and political problems inherent in trying to run a Games in two different countries. It is not surprising that the San Diego Trolley terminates blocks from the international border, but goes no further. How would border crossings be arranged? How could illegal trafficking be prevented?

These same issues will probably prevent any El Paso-Juarez link from being built. The United States and Mexico have closed borders and a rail line connecting border cities would be difficult to build and even harder to operate. At the international crossing, customs officers would have to check the papers and baggage of every passenger on board, a time-consuming and invasive process well-known to anyone who’s ever taken a train between the U.S. and Canada. Riders would either have to leave the train or be questioned one-by-one on board by immigration officers. These procedures would eliminate many of the speed advantages of constructing a new transit link.

If the goal of a public transportation connection between two countries that don’t have open borders seems unrealistic, it at least says something about the openness of the people who live in the affected areas and their hope for better international relations. As long as prominent American commentators and policymakers remain antagonistic in reference to any relationship with Mexico, people will be waiting hours to cross the border with no rail option for decades to come.

Proposed Juarez Rail Line MapUpdate, 1 October

The El Paso Times provides more details on the Juarez-El Paso project, demonstrating that the City of Juarez’s primary interest is in building a new line within Mexico, from the municipality’s airport, through downtown, to the border. A connection over the existing bridge into downtown El Paso is a future possibility, but only if U.S. customs officials approve the use of the link, with the problems discussed above and all. The project could be in service by 2013 if the $120 million corridor can compile enough financial and political support.

This information adds a realistic note to this idea for a new transit service: instead of emphasizing the border crossing as the important element of this line, the project’s main goal will be to get people from the south side of the city to the border, where they will be able to cross by foot into El Paso’s center city, which is just a few blocks away.

Juarez officials also hope to eventually connect their city with the proposed Denver-El Paso commuter rail link, though that project’s future depends on the release of federal stimulus funds, something that is in no way guaranteed.

Image above: from the El Paso Times