With a scream of “All Board!” In January 1986, Corpus Christi welcomed passenger traffic again after an absence of almost 40 years. At this point the Tex-Mex Express was making its first trip from the city to Laredo.
The Texas-Mexican Railway Co. had not provided passenger service from Corpus Christi to Laredo since the early 1940s, when car or bus travel became increasingly popular.
The idea of the renewed passenger service was the brainchild of AR “Andy” Ramos, President and CEO of the Texas-Mexican Railway Co. in Laredo. He had been working on the idea since the early 1980s when the devaluation of the peso weighed on rail freight profits. After working with city officials, he turned to the Corpus Christi City Council in November 1984 and they agreed to build a passenger depot in Corpus Christi in case Tex-Mex operated the railroad. The company continued to move cargo between the two cities.
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City council approved the use of $ 150,000 in federal block grants to build the depot on South Alameda and Kinney Streets, just a few miles from the Nueces County Courthouse. The depot designed by Morgan Spear Associates resembled the appearance of depots around the turn of the 20th century.
On January 4, 1986, local reporters with newspapers, television and radio in Corpus Christi and Laredo took what Ramos called “press run” to gather information for the inaugural trip. As the train passed through towns like Robstown, Alice and Hebbronville, children and adults stood by the tracks to wave to passengers.
“You feel good,” said Ramos of the people waving to the train passengers. “You can see the interest. That’s a good sign.”
Ramos tracked down and renovated four carriage wagons and a lounge wagon because it was too difficult to find new cars. Passengers could buy food and drink in the newly appointed cars, and when they were tired of watching the mesquite trees and prickly pears from the windows, each car had color televisions with videotapes.
A few weeks later, on January 31st, the opening run took place. The 157-mile trip was approximately 4.5 hours one-way at a top speed of 50 mph, with short stops in Robstown, Alice, and Hebbronville. Mayors Luther Jones and Ramos christened the engine with a bottle of champagne when Bishop Rene Gracida gave a blessing. The train ran on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, leaving Corpus Christi at 9:30 a.m. and arriving in Laredo at 2:00 p.m. The train then drove back to Corpus Christi at 4:00 p.m. and arrived in town at 8:30 p.m. A round-trip ticket was $ 39.95 for adults and $ 20 for children.
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The first year was a success. Visitors and locals alike enjoyed the novelty of train travel. In March, actors from the local Encore Theater cast performed the original production “Murder on the Tex-Mex Express” on board the train, which was sponsored by radio station KRYS / K-99. The passengers / audience were tasked with identifying the killer, and the winner was given a round-trip ticket for two to London, Paris or Frankfurt. The passengers were at a loss and no one could name the murderer. Judge Noah Kennedy of the 13th Court of Appeals (who happened to be a passenger) determined the winners by pulling names out of a cowboy hat.
Ramos learned in late October during the opening year that business collapsed after Labor Day. He decided to close the service by February 1987.
But by 1988 the novelty was worn out and the number of drivers decreased. The route ran at a loss that year, and by April 1989, Ramos announced that the Express would be shut down unless ticket sales increased significantly. The train was $ 10,500 a week, but sales were much less.
“We wouldn’t mind a small loss, $ 25,000 or $ 30,000, but it’s already gone beyond that,” Ramos told the Caller-Times.
Last minute efforts were made to increase sales but only bought another month. The last train left on June 18, 1989.
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Despite the suspension of rail traffic, the depot is still in operation. The building was relocated to the corner of North Chaparral and Hirsch streets and was donated to the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau, which renovated the building in 1998 and served as the office’s headquarters until 2014. The old Tex-Mex depot now houses the offices of the Buccaneer Commission.
Allison Ehrlich writes about activities in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. In this way, help support local coverage by checking out our subscription options and specials at Caller.com/subscribe