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Mexico: Railroads
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Transportation and Communications > Railroads


The predominantly state-owned Mexican railroad system is extensive, consisting in 1994 of 20,425 kilometers of 1.435-meter, standard-gauge line and ninety kilometers of 0.914-meter narrow-gauge line. A 102-kilometer section of line between Mexico City and Querétaro is electrified.

The largest rail line is the state-owned Mexican National Railways (Ferrocarriles Nacionales Mexicanos -- FNM), which operates on about 70 percent of the total trackage and carries some 80 percent of total rail traffic. The second largest network, also state-owned, is the Pacific Railroad, which links Nogales and Guadalajara. The three smaller government-owned lines are the Chihuahua to Pacific Railroad, the Sonora to Baja California Railroad, and the United Railroads of the Southeast.

Several Mexican cities have rail links with the United States, including Ciudad Juárez, Laredo, Piedras Negras, Reynosa, Matamoros, Nogales, Naco, and Agua Prieta. The Mexican rail system also connects with Central American lines through Guatemala.

In 1992 FNM's rolling stock consisted of 1,575 diesel locomotives and 42,240 freight cars. In addition, some 60,000 privately owned freight cars were in service. In 1992 FNM carried 49 million tons of freight, representing 12 percent of all long-haul freight traffic in Mexico.

Railroads were only lightly used by passengers in the early 1990s, accounting for just 2 percent of total intercity passenger travel. In 1992 FNM carried almost 15 million passengers on its fleet of more than 800 passenger rail vehicles. In 1993 it began gradually privatizing its passenger operations by means of concessions to private carriers. In 1995 the Mexican congress passed legislation allowing private investment in railways under fifty-year concessions. Private enterprises were allowed to operate various portions of the rail network, provide train services, and operate railyards and terminals.

Despite its abundant mileage and rolling stock, the Mexican railroad system was generally considered to be antiquated and inefficient in the early 1990s. Corporate respondents to the World Bank's 1994 survey of commercial users of Mexican transportation services rated the state-owned rail network as the most poorly performing component of Mexico's national transportation system. Inadequate maintenance, mismanagement, and corruption were cited as major impediments to reliable service. In 1991 only 68 percent of locomotives were available for use at any given time, and terminal operations were so poorly managed that only 20 percent of shipment time was spent en route. To avoid delay, spoilage, and loss of merchandise, Mexican companies attempted whenever possible to bypass the rail system altogether by relying heavily on long-haul trucks, which accounted for 88 percent of all overland cargo travel in 1992. The inefficiency of the railroad system was considered a major impediment to Mexican commercial competitiveness under the new NAFTA trading system.

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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