Tucson’s Rio Nuevo ‘Achilles Heel’ …the Railroad?

[Arizona Corporation Commission photo]

The big boys of global capitalism are planning for something huge between El Paso Texas and the Pacific.

Like astronomers ascertaining the presence of something hidden by the movement of adjacent bodies, the same thing is shaping-up to affect Tucson’s signature real estate development, i.e. its downtown re-make, a.k.a. Rio Nuevo.

I can make the case, Tucson needs to act quickly to mitigate most of the rail infrastructure in the downtown area.  Not addressed, what will confront people by 2030 may be a stepped-up noise, rail, and 18-wheeler traffic matrix, making life unbearable in that zone.

It’s all coming about due to this slow motion, external (hundreds of miles away) realignment of America’s “Pivot to the Pacific”.  Itself the result of new national security, technology, and global trade changes …very seminal changes.

If the Sonoran Mexicans succeed in their plans for the Port of Guaymas, and the reconfiguration of the rail line to and around Nogales, this will set in motion a 2nd railroad revolution for southern AZ.  Aspects I noted in my previous piece on Sonora’s awakening to its Pacific potential.

Two critical developments in Sonora have just occurred since that last piece on the Mexican state.  Singapore financial interests, in conjunction with their partners in the US Permian Basin (WTx & NM) & Mexico, have transferred site properties for construction of a planned, multi-billion $$$ natgas liquefaction port facility at Guaymas.

And Ford Motor Company is now seriously studying how to transform their existing Hermosillo plant to become their largest Pacific-oriented EV manufacturing & export facility.  They’ve been meeting with Sonoran officials and other material, mining, and transportation players in an effort to work out a broad concept and some key details.

This included not only Ford, Mexican state & municipal officials, but representatives of Grupo Mexico, which owns the Port of Guaymas and the FerroMex rail line, under which Ford has long chaffed.  In addition, Chinese interests from Bacanora Lithium, the gigantic Sonoran lithium deposit, have also been present.

Since exiting Brazil in 2021 after more than 100 years, Ford has recommitted to a major strategic gamble on North American (read: NAFTA-the-sequel) electric vehicle production.  This is a ‘1-foot-at-a-time’ strategy beginning with a new multi-billion $$$ EV plant northeast of Memphis, now under construction, and its new battery plant complement, close to Appalachian lithium deposits in Stanton, KY.

But now the tantalizing aspect of the largest lithium deposits in North America, amazingly close to their Sonoran manufacturing ops, and with possible enhanced port/rail facilities on the Pacific, and further access into the North American rail-grid, looks to be an intriguing piece of the puzzle.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile North-of-the-Arizona-Border: Not only will all this Sonoran-Pacific action validate the pending gigantic investment BNSF railroad is about to make west of Phoenix, it will also validate Union Pacific’s relatively new (2014), similar intermodal facility just west of El Paso, in Santa Teresa, NM.  No doubt BNSF will negotiate joint trackage rights from their new multi-$-billion Phoenix facility, to Nogales; otherwise it’s stranded from the lion’s share of business flowing South to North.

Also, from their main respective points on the border, the Mexican railroad, FerroMex, will be able to service both American giants and the Port.  The subtext here from the 2 US rail concerns, “we’re counting on it, and betting big money.”  Things get even more interesting with the emergence of the “E_Economy” and the necessity of large mining operations (lithium, copper, etc) in our transborder region.

All of this will throw an incredible amount of UP (& later BNSF) rail traffic through downtown Tucson, to their undersized yard, just 1.1 miles southeast.   This was the same consideration UP & BNSF underwent after NAFTA was born, in downtown El Paso, with UP making the determination (2010) to do their big Santa Teresa operation further west in the NM desert.  Now BNSF is doing the same outside of Phoenix.

But wait, there’s more  …an outlier to this emerging Arizona rail nexus could be the proposed refurbishment of an abandoned rail line from the booming Tijuana Metro manufacturing center (yes, Tijuana, pop. ~2.5 million), and its rapidly expanding Pacific port of Ensenada, ~50 miles south.   That border-zone RR line would run northeast to Plaster City, CA, where it could later link-up with Union Pacific (going into Tucson).

Currently, the Tijuana proposals have failed because of amateurish undercapitalization of the complex rehab.  But experts agree this line would solve many problems now bedeviling rail & port operations there; Baja de Norte state government is very keen on this development strategy.

In closing, I apologize in advance if it turns out—with these observations, I’m the skunk at the Rio Nuevo garden party.  That is not my intent; but rather to inform Tucson “leadership”, you’re not in a 1-taco-stand-town anymore.

Sellers is a Southpark Republican living in incorporated Oro Valley; his background is federal technology commercialization

About Bill Sellers 68 Articles
Sellers is a South Park Republican who lives in incorporated Oro Valley.  His background is federal tech-transfer commercialization.  Contact him at readbill19@usa.net Sellers is also a grad of Clemson’s Architecture School and the University of NC School of Business. He was a founding member of the Albuquerque Friday Morning Breakfast Group (’82-’96) which elected numerous conservatives. He has lived in the SouthWest & PacNorthWest more than 40 yrs.


  1. Well ( uess since the writer has nothing better to do, he has to stir the pot. I dont think that much will come of this as the city will not approve of anything that means they will have to give up control. No the county thats another issue altogether. People seem to think they will save the earth with electric cars but no is telling the whole truth on these things. Right now in calif it is estimated just for the ev there it will take $25+ billion just to support the existing cars. They do not discuss who is going fund that or where the electric will come from. Kalif thinks it has brown out issues now just wait. Also the folks who are pushing these things cannot tell us how that by destroying the earth for these minerals it will save us! They deny that the things to make this happen will rely on fuels and coal supplies and what will they do once the mineral supplies run out? I guess they hope to have interstellar mining operations going on by then?

  2. I always appreciate Mr Seller’s articles – very informative! It’s difficult (actually pretty impossible) to find this news elsewhere. And I doubt the RR’s websites have much on these plans.
    I have to ask – does all this have a link to the proposed corridor, I think from Texas to Canada, in order to bypass the unions on the left coast ports? (if indeed that’s still going forward)?
    And as to the electric vehicle plans – wow. That is big gamble!

    • Can’t say; the US DoD is studying that West Coast port mess (a Harry Bridges moment, for sure!), when it comes to the US strategic pivot. Using the Baja beats the time factor, union costs, & canal exposure, hands-down.

  3. making now where plans for nobody – the US will not be much longer – what’s developed here is pipe dreams

  4. Bill, please use English. This is an incoherent rant that makes no sense. I’ve worked with UP and know you are factually incorrect but you ramble so much I’m not sure English is your first language.

    • Reed, I don’t write for ‘gubbmint’ employees, or Dim trolls, who work in downtown gubbmint offices, and barely mastered 6th grade English, let alone any critical thinking skills. And the RRs were clients (in NM & WTx) for years, incl FerroMex, so yes I know a little something about the RRs. Hey, you can set up a writing clinic for illegals in the basement, huh?

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