Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railway submits ESREM Project for funding with Federal Railroad Administration

On November 29, the Brownsville & Rio Grade International Railway (BRG) submitted its application to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to fund the Efficient and Safe Rail Exports to Mexico (ESREM) Project.  ESREM is a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) project. 

The window for applications closed on November 29, and FRA will announce winners of the competitive grant in the coming months.  ESREM was submitted by the Port of Brownsville on July 29, 2021 for the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) at MARAD.  PIDP grant winners have not yet been announced by MARAD, and the FRA application gives ESREM another chance for a competitive selection.

The Efficient and Safe Rail Exports to Mexico (ESREM) Project is a $8,277,300 project seeking a CRISI grant of $6,621,836 to upgrade BRG rail infrastructure in the Port of Brownsville. 

ESREM will replace 100-year-old steel rail and switches which are a derailment threat for liquid fuels trains on the port’s North Lead.  The Project will also replace a single-track wooden bridge bottleneck which is the only rail access to the port.  These elements have been identified by the Texas State Rail Plan as network challenges that limit railroad capacity, efficiency, velocity, safety, and freight mobility in the state.  ESREM will also install a new rail scale to ease rail exports to Mexico while reducing rail interference with truck traffic in the port. 

ESREM will improve safety by reducing derailment risk and replacing switches to reduce the risk of railroad employee injuries.  The project will move traffic by rail instead of truck, reduce carbon emissions, increase air quality, and reduce congestion on truck routes to the Mexican border.  The project is a key component in Brownsville’s heated competition with the Mexican port of Altamira.  ESREM will generate $4,018,612 in net benefits across 8 categories of public and rail operations benefits, returning a benefit-cost ratio of 1.58-to-1.00.

Application documentation can be accessed by US DOT and FRA reviewers using the passwords provided in the grant application narrative and the links below.

A. Narrative: ESREM_A_Narrative_CRISI.pdf– This narrative.

B. Statement of Work: ESREM_B_SOW_CRISI.pdf – Required Statement of Work

C. Benefit-cost analysis: ESREM_C_BCA_CRISI.xlsx– Benefit-Cost Analysis in MS Excel form

D. BCA explanation: ESREM_D_BCA_Explain_CRISI.pdf – Explanation of the BCA

E. Cat Ex Worksheet: ESREM_E_CE_CRISI.pdf– NEPA Categorical Exclusion Worksheet prepared by Golder Associates

F. Support letters: ESREM_F_Support_CRISI.pdf– Letters of support from:  U.S. Senator John Cornyn,U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzales (TX-15), State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., State Rep. Alex Dominguez,Cameron Co. Judge Eddie Treviño, and additional community leaders and port customers.

G. Project budget: ESREM_G_Budget_CRISI.xlsx – Budget documents, including tables used in this narrative

H. Commitment letter: ESREM_H_Commitments_CRISI.pdf– Letter from BRG / OmniTRAX, Inc pledging 20.0% match for the project.

I. Procurement statement: ESREM_I_Procurement_CRISI.pdf – Statement that the applicant has a system for procuring property and services under a federal award

J. Documentation letters: ESREM_J_Document_CRISI.pdf– Letters from the heads of relevant departments and consultants explaining values used in the BCA and this appendix.

L. Financial Capability: ESREM_K_Financial_CRISI.pdf– FRA Form F 251

M. Organization chart: ESREM_L_OrgChart_CRISI.pdf– Required attachment for FRA Form F 251

Representative Vela expresses support for ESREM Project

On August 10, 2021, U.S. Representative Filemón Vela wrote to U.S. DOT Sec. Buttigieg to express his support for the ESREM Project. For MARAD and DOT reviewers, this letter is now available in the updated ESREM_F_Support.pdf using log-on credentials provided in the project narrative. Rep. Vela joins U.S. Senator John Cornyn, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., State Representatives Alex Dominguez and Eddie Lucio, III, and Carmeron County Judge Eddie Treviño, among others in their support for this project.

The Efficient and Safe Rail Exports to Mexico (ESREM) Project

The Efficient and Safe Rail Exports to Mexico (ESREM) Project is a $8,277,300 project seeking a $4,138,652 Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) grant to upgrade rail infrastructure in the Port of Brownsville.  The ESREM Project is a partnership between the Brownsville Navigation District (BND) and the Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railway, LLC (BRG), a privately managed freight railroad operating infrastructure owned by the port.  The project will improve rail safety and enhance efficiency while reducing disruptions to traffic in the port.  It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect and create high quality living-wage jobs in a city that is 90% Hispanic and one of the poorest in America.

Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railway President Norma Torres describes the ESREM Project and the partnership between BRG and the Port of Brownsville

Brownsville is a small port that has grown dramatically over the past 20 years as it has become a major gateway for shipping steel and liquid fuels to Mexico.  Freight unloaded from ships in Brownsville can move to Mexican destinations by either rail or truck.  Antiquated port rail infrastructure constrains the ability of the railroad to competitively handle a larger share of freight to Mexico.  As a result, unnecessary volumes of freight move by truck, increasing carbon emissions, reducing air quality, and impacting traffic and congestion on truck routes to the Mexican border.  Brownsville is in heated competition with the Mexican port of Altamira and losing traffic to Altamira costs Brownsville – and the United States – good-paying jobs.

The ESREM Project will upgrade three important interrelated components in the port:

  1. Rail & switch replacement on the “North Lead” tracks
  2. New double track bridge and double track rail lines at the entrance to the port
  3. New weigh-in-motion rail car scale in the port

Table of application appendices

PIDP Project info form:        ESREM_PIDP_Proj_info.pdfFY 2021 PIDP Project Information form

A. Appendix:                           ESREM_A_Narrative.pdfThis appendix.

B. Benefit-cost analysis:         ESREM_B_BCA.xlsx– Benefit-Cost Analysis in MS Excel form.

C. BCA explanation:              ESREM_C_BCA_explanation.pdf – Explanation of the BCA.

D. Documentation letters:     ESREM_D_Document_letters.pdfLetters from the heads of relevant departments and consultants explaining values used in the BCA and this appendix.

E. NEPA review memo:         ESREM_E_NEPA_memo.pdf– Memo from Golder Associates analyzing the anticipated EA/CE environmental review process for the ESREM Project.

F. Support letters:                  ESREM_F_Support.pdf– Letters of support from:  U.S. Senator John Cornyn, U.S. Representatives Filemón Vela (TX-34) and Vicente Gonzales (TX-15), State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., State Rep. Alex Dominguez, Cameron Co. Judge Eddie Treviño, and additional community leaders and port customers. Updated Aug. 5, 2021 to add support of State Rep. Eddie Lucio, III.

G. Project budget:                  ESREM_G_Budget.xlsx – Budget documents, including tables used in this appendix.

H. Commitment letter:          ESREM_H_Commit_letter.pdf– Letters from BRG / OmniTRAX, Inc pledging 50.0% match for the project.

I. KMZ shapefile:                   ESREM_I_KMZ.kmz – GoogleEarth map file.

J. Map and impacted areas:  ESREM_J_Map.pdf – Map and list of impacted communities.