April 22, Monday

We ate at the Mexican equivalent of a Denny's--very good. All trip, and no stomach discomfort. Would we escape Mexico unscathed? Next door, was a big Soriana shopping center, and we made a quick trip to the magazine stand inside to pick up some cheap kids' books in Spanish for Eliot. I also snagged a couple of the "Guía Roji" maps on display (www.guiaroji.com.mx), one of Monterrey and one for the state of Coahuila. Most of the Sorianas should have this map line on sale, and it's a good one, with rail lines shown in detail.

The Monterrey map helped us navigate our way to the big classification yard a few miles south of us, where we drove into the north end on a dirt access road to watch two northbound TFM trains switching and making their air tests. Both were behind two-unit sets of Super 7 GE's, one pair in TFM gray, one in FNM colors.

Both TFM and Ferromex have large operation centers here, and while the guards were sympathetic to our wanting to visit the dispatching center at FXE, there wasn't a manager available to take us around. Instead, we did a quick perimeter drive around the large joint yard facility (Alstom has a contract rebuilt center in the former FNM shops here), and headed north.

On the northern outskirts of town, near where the north bypass loop around Monterrey passes over Highway 1, is the junction of General Escobedo. Here, TFM trains from Saltillo which used a bypass around Monterrey rejoin the mainline toward Nuevo Laredo. And here a northbound was getting a roll-by inspection by the local police--a standard procedure, I understand. I didn't bother taking out the camera and photographing this, so far avoiding as many encounters with curious law-enforcement personnel as I could. The train had another matched set of FNM-painted Super 7 GE's. A few miles north of the junction, near a busy grade crossing leading to a landfill, two SD70MACS sat in a siding awaiting the northbound's arrival. The crew were a dapper pair, dressed more for an afternoon of golf than railroading. They appreciated the photographs of American trains from the American railfan, posed for a photo with their locomotive, then asked to take the camera and photograph me with the train. I was glad to comply.

North of here, near Salinas Victoria, track work had the railroad shut down. A B23-2 in TFM paint worked at unloading track equipment. The next siding north, Los Morales, had a southbound hanging back of the crossing with his two SD70MACS. Clearly, nothing was coming soon, so we booked north. Southbounds waiting in each of the next three sidings--ah! First trick Monday on the railroad is universally a day of heavy track work, no matter where you are. We explored the abandoned depots at Vilaldama, Golondrinas, and Lampazos and reflected on the changes that must've been wrenching to railroaders in Mexico since privatization. Each town with a depot now found them abandoned, destitude, and the nearby maintenance of way housing abandoned as well.

We saw a few more southbounds before encountering a northbound parked near La Jarita, south of Sánchez on the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo. Atop the train, a half-dozen soliders with rifles were opening the hatches on covered hoppers. What were they looking for? Stow-aways? Terrorists? Drugs?

At Sánchez, apparently the six-hour window at the international boundary was favoring southbound movements. A heavy grain train ground south behind two AC4400's. . . followed by a merchandise train with two AC4400's up front and two more in the middle of the train (distributed power?) and a stack train (with blue "Pacer" containers. . . auto parts, I believe) behind two SD70MACS. . . and finally, another southbound with two Union Pacific SD60Ms.

We drove back into Nuevo Laredo, returned my tourist visa and turned in my car permit, and took one good look at the two border bridges above--bumper to bumper. No one moving. We decided to head back out of town toward the "other" border crossing at Colombia, a few miles west of Nuevo Laredo. It couldn't be any worse than this, could it? We followed the signs west toward the "Number Three" bridge, and a brand-spanking new customs terminal. . . and we followed the signs for passenger vehicles straight into. . . a parking lot and U-turn back south? Apparently the "Number Three" bridge was only for commercial traffic, a fact never communicated on any of the signs en route. A case of "It's a Secret, we can't tell you!" What to do, go back to Nuevo Laredo and wait in line? A thin, ragged looking guy sitting on a curb, apparently seeing our perplexed faces as we circled in a never-ending Border Crossing mobius ran toward our car, wildly gesturing. Mary said the ragged guy told us that we should get back on the highway toward Piedras Negras a few miles to get to the Colombia Crossing. Ah ha! That's where we thought we were. Apparently this is a new border crossing, for trucks and buses only. I gave the guy the last 10 peso coin I had, and we headed west. . . and drove. . .and drove. . . surely the crossing should be here somewhere? Again, not even a sign to tell us we're headed the right way until . . ."Colombia, Dereche, 300m"!

It was another one of those closely-guarded Mexican secrets. And it seemed to work. There was no line--the place was virtually deserted. We were through inspection in less than a minute; Mary's grandfather had his paperwork taken care of in less than 15.

The end of our visit to Mexico seemed anticlimactic, a coda of straight four-lane freeway through the mesquite trees, taking us back to Interstate 35, a pizza at Cotulla, and a bed for the night in San Antonio.

Bienvenidos de América. We were still 400 miles from home. But we were home.

April 15, Monday
April 16, Tuesday
April 17, Wednesday
April 18, Thursday
April 19, Friday
April 20, Saturday
April 21, Sunday
April 22, Monday

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