Was there ever passenger rail service between the U.S. and Mexico?

IIRC Mexico has ended all passenger rail service with the exception of the Copper Canyon route, which, besides being an international tourist attraction, is an important local transportation artery.

But back when Mexico did have passenger trains, was there ever service across the border? Could you go from San Diego to Tijuana and Ensenada? Or from Brownsville to Matamoros? Does the lack of cross-border service originate from the discontinuation of Mexican passenger service, or is it more a result of the border being more strictly controlled in recent decades? FTR there also aren’t a great many crossings between the U.S. and Canada; I can think of only two routes–Montreal to NYC and Seattle to Vancouver.

I am almost certain there was because my father always talked about a family trip that he took to Mexico on a train. That would have been in the 1950’s.

It’s too bad there isn’t any now. Living in L.A., I would much rather go that way down to Rosarito or Ensenada than drive, especially with gas costing as much as it does.

I remember seeing an antique map at a railroad museum, that showed the San Diego & Arizona RR. South of San Diego, it dips a few miles into Baja, and re-enters the U.S. in Tecate, CA. I believe this line is still used for freight.

Googling provides RAILmexico.com which has links to commercial sites. It’s not clear whether the trains would be in Mexico alone or are accessable from the U.S. You’d have to check through the links.

This Journal of American History page gives 1884 for the first link between El Paso and Mexico City.

Prior to denationalization of the Mexican rail system around 1998, there were passenger trains that headed south from Mexicali and Nogales (respectively, just across the border from Calexico, CA, and Nogales, AZ near Tucson); I know people who took both routes in the 1990’s all the way to Guadalajara and Mexico City. It took ~48 hours from Mexicali to Guadalajara.

There’s also the Maple Leaf (PDF schedule here) between Toronto and New York, via Niagara Falls and Buffalo.

There’s a very good rail infrastructure in Mexico, but in terms of passenger lines they have the same problem as we do – all of the existing alternatives are cheaper or otherwise (subjectively) “better” than the rail system. I wish this link had more recent data, but it shows why Amtrak doesn’t work in the USA, despite subsidies. Mexico would have to invest too much of its little resources to prop up a failing system.

Of course in the USA we have cheap airfare. In Mexico the commercial solution to the train problem (aside from airlines, which IMHO are much nicer than ours are in tourist class) is the bus. Now I’ve been on my fare share of Greyhounds, and I don’t ever, ever want to be without another alternative again in my life. But… if you get on a first class bus (there are classes of bus, and first class isn’t expensive as an American) it’s heaven. Sure, it’s not as fast as an aircraft, but it doesn’t have rigid infrastructure requirements like a rail line.

Myself, I’ve been on the Chepe from Los Mochis to Creel and back. Due to track disrepair, the trip lasted two hours longer than scheduled to get to Creel, and three hours longer than scheduled to get back to Los Mochis. But… it was fun, the scenery was gorgeous, the food was so-so, and it got us to our destinations with no fuss. I’d heartily recommend it. The line extends to Chihuahua City. Rather than Los Mochis, if I had to do it again I’d’ve gotten aboard at El Fuerte.

I’ve also heard there’s the Tequila Express, but I’m unsure (a) if it’s still in operation and (b) if it’s an actual passenger line or just a round trip tourist cruise.

It does dip into Mexico for a few miles. That line has been plagued with problems.


That’s got to be one of the most convoluted rail lines I’ve ever seen. Are all those switchbacks due to mountain terrain?

Undoubtedly. The terrain of northern Baja, espcially near the Pacific, is some of the ruggedest you’ll find anywhere.

I have heard of a Baja wine train (they have a wine country extending roughly between Ensenada and Tecate), but I think you have to first cross into Mexico by road and then take the train in Tecate. Anyway, that’s obviously a tourist train and not regular transportation, if it still exists.

Some of the wine is quite good! I make a point of trying the local product whenever I am down there.

The Monkees song “What Am I Doing Hanging Round?”, in which the singer laments blowing his chances with a pretty local girl while on vacation in Mexico, contains multiple references to a “train to San Antone” (which is to say, San Antonio, Texas).

Not that I usually look for answers to life’s questions in Monkees lyrics, but I thought I’d mention it.