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Mexico’s Tehuantepec Isthmus Rail Corridor: A Chance to Ship Your Boat Across Mexico?

Reader Denis Diekhoff wrote from Minneapolis to ask if we knew anything about shipping a boat from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific via train. The question reminded us of a quote from George Carlin: “Why is it that when you transport something by car, it’s called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship, it’s called cargo?”

We do remember hearing of this in the past, so we Googled the question to see what came up. Sure enough, there’s an active project underway to improve transportation by both rail and highway between the Pacific port of Salina Cruz in Oaxaca and the Gulf port of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz. According to Mexico shipping agents it’s a pipe dream. When complete, could it be a reasonable alternative to the Panama Canal for getting boats between the oceans? Does anyone remember boats being shipped across the isthmus in the past?

The article points out that there is money allocated and work is underway to modernize the Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz ports, and the road in between. But like the overly ambitious ‘nautical staircase’ we reported on in the past, we think that while the project could certainly bring some benefit to people and businesses along that corridor and in the ports, it’s unlikely to become a major alternative thoroughfare to the Panama Canal. Conceivably, for easily trucked smaller boats whose destination is the US Gulf Coast or Florida, it could be an interesting idea since it saves about 1200 miles of sailing south and then back north in the Atlantic, but if you’re headed to the West Indies it doesn’t make sense.

Mexico's Tehuantepec isthmus rail corridor
It would be about 180 miles to travel between oceans by rail or truck.
© 2021 Google Maps

Since boats are shipped with some regularity between Maine and San Diego, the 180-mile jaunt across Mexico sounds like a snap. If you know any more, let us know in the comments below, or email us at [email protected].

9 Comments

  1. Tim Dick 3 years ago

    It doesn’t sound crazy… It would cut ~2,000 miles and 4 days off an Asia to Gulf of Mexico (or E. Coast) service. It would allow trans-shipment onto smaller ships in the Gulf of Mexico. It would add two container lifts (Port of Los Angeles fee: $388 for a standard 40 foot “can”), so let’s say $200 per lift in Mexico = $400 total, however it would eliminate the Panama Canal fee. You could use a smaller ship for the Gulf of Mexico deliveries (Houston, New Orleans for Mississippi River) and onto U.S. rail to the heartland and East Coast. Yes, it would require 130 miles of road improvement, but these are the kinds of infrastructure projects that most countries love to do.

  2. David Hammer 3 years ago

    I have been on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico several times. I think sailing from Coatzacoalcos to the leeward islands would be a lot easier and faster than going through the canal.

  3. Mike Manchak 3 years ago

    Hey amazing Lat38 team, please stay on this story and report again please! That project would be a game-changer! Thank you

  4. ROBERT Walker 3 years ago

    What about the transit from Gulf of Mexico to the West Coast and sail north?

  5. Ken Frazee 3 years ago

    They have been talking about it for years…along with the chain of Marinas. A good idea, either by rail or road…but I am skeptical.

  6. Michelle 3 years ago

    The corridor is much more than connecting two major interoceanic ports, it’s a game changer for logistics and transport, not just for Mexico, but North American production chains! Highly recommend this article for more: https://bit.ly/3mNRS7H

  7. john thee 2 years ago

    just truck across

  8. D J T 2 years ago

    This Tehuantepec Isthmus Rail Corridor is problematic from an economic, environmental and human rights perspective. Indigenous people of the territory are being forced off of their land to accommodate this project. It is based on extraction and promises to mess up an environmentally sensitive region. Importantly, any project of this scale is prone to corruption in Mexico. Hopefully it never happens. And if getting a boat from one ocean to another is a big problem, then perhaps there is a scarcity of real issues to navigate.

  9. Erik Tootell 3 months ago

    I understand that the Panama Canal is having problems because of a drought, and lower than normal water levels. It is not operating at capacity. The current Mexican administration is opposed to corruption and opposed to environmental damage. Many of his critics became instant environmentalists when they had a history of being anything but. So I take allegations about the environmental impacts of AMLO’s projects with a grain of salt. I am not alone in this, so people raising legitimate environmental concerns ought to be very specific.

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