The new crossing has opened at a time of heated debate over the security of the US' southern border

First US-Mexico rail link in a century opens

The first new rail link between the USA and Mexico in more than a century was opened yesterday, as part of a plan to update trade infrastructure.

The West Rail Bypass International Bridge connects Brownsville, Texas with the city of Matamoros across the border, becoming the ninth rail crossing between the two countries and the route will largely carry freight, the US Commerce Department said.

With bilateral trade between the two countries growing to nearly $600bn (£380bn) a year since the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented over 20 years ago, trade with Mexico has increased six-fold while infrastructure has stood still, said US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

"We need to have infrastructure that lives up to the economic opportunities that are in front of both of our countries," she said, adding the two governments have launched other projects aimed at making trade easier.

Mexico is the third-largest bilateral goods trading partner of the US and its second-largest goods export market in 2013, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative. Nearly $1.5bn of goods cross between the two countries each day, the Commerce Department said.

Breaking ground in December 2010, the West Rail project was designed to expand regional transportation capacity, improve air quality and re-route rail traffic out of the most populated areas in both border cities, the Commerce Department said.

News of the new crossing comes as Republican presidential candidates call for tightening controls along the border to prevent illicit goods and immigrants crossing illegally, but US Customs and Border Protection said that all nine rail crossings are equipped with X-ray systems that can scan arriving rail traffic and there are also Border Patrol agents and sniffer dogs for on-site inspections.

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