Border Violence Prompts Railroad to Seek Waiver

Men work on the railroad tracks at the Union Pacific railyard in El Paso on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.
Men work on the railroad tracks at the Union Pacific railyard in El Paso on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.

One of the country’s largest freight railroad operators is requesting permission from the federal government to adjust its operations in Texas because of violence on the Mexican side of the border, including the fatal shooting in May of a train yard worker in Ciudad Juárez.

Union Pacific filed a request with the Federal Railroad Administration in May to transfer federally required train brake tests away from its international rail yard to two of the company’s other rail yards in El Paso. Both rail yards are within 10 miles of the international yard, but they are not as close to the border as the international yard, UP spokesman Jeff DeGraff said.

“We’re looking to move these inspection points a little further out to give us some distance there so that we can limit our exposure,” DeGraff said.

The federal government published UP’s waiver request in the federal register on Saturday to allow for public comment. 

Each day, six trains run through UP’s international yard in El Paso — three traveling north from Mexico and three traveling south into Mexico — according to the company’s waiver request. On the other side of the border, the trains pass through the FXE Interchange Yard run by Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México (FXE).

 

In the waiver request, UP cites “several reports of gunfire heard across the border” and a May 6 incident in which an “FXE yard foreman” was fatally shot. UP filed its waiver request a week after the foreman's death.

“That was not a UP employee, but it happened very close to our yard, which is one of our main concerns,” DeGraff said.

There have been 270 murders in 2014 so far in Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso. That's slightly fewer than than the 276 murders over the same period in 2013 but significantly higher than the city saw a decade earlier, according to a recent El Diario report. El Paso, despite its neighbor's troubles, is regularly cited as one of the safest cities in the country for its size.

In 2010, UP made a similar request to waive brake inspections at the El Paso International Yard. That request did not mention border violence, though. It cited an interest in moving freight traffic through El Paso more efficiently. The FRA denied the request, and said it was not “in the public interest and consistent with railroad safety at this time.”

The Federal Railroad Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Joseph Faust, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe railways, a Fort Worth-based freight railroad firm that also operates a rail yard in El Paso, said the company has not filed a waiver request related to border violence. He declined to say whether the company plans to in the future.

Earlier this year, César Duarte, the governor of the Mexican state of Chihuahuaproposed building a bypass around Ciudad Juárez to move the rail line out of the heart of that city, citing concerns including pedestrian fatalities. 

Julián Aguilar contributed to this report.