On Oct. 25, 1882, trains from the Sonoran and Santa Fe Railways met at what is now Nogales to inaugurate a new rail connection between the U.S. and Mexico.
On Thursday, 130 years from the date, approximately 100 community members watched a re-enactment of that historic moment during a ceremony at Karam Park that was dubbed “Rails Make Nogales Day.” Speakers at the event honored the pivotal role that the railway has played in the development of the local economy, and touted the further expansion of cross-border trade as the key to future prosperity.
“It is the seminal moment in Nogales history,” local historian Axel Holm said of the 1882 rail connection. “And it is the seminal moment in U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Latin American relations.”
In a news release announcing the event, the City of Nogales noted that since Oct. 25, 1882, trade between Arizona and Mexico has grown to $26 billion annually. And in Nogales, the crossing point for much of that trade, there are now four international ports of entry, including the one at Mariposa that is now in the midst of a $200-million renovation.
Manuel Hopkins, economic development director for the city of Nogales, Sonora, stressed the need for his city and Nogales, Ariz. to work together as a single community to expand cross-border trade and become more globally competitive. Mayor Arturo Garino spoke of Nogales’ key location in the so-called “Sun Corridor,” a trade belt that runs north from the border through Tucson and Phoenix to Prescott. And he called the Ambos Nogales area “the supply-chain capital of our state.”
Noting the train engines that rolled slowly up behind him, Garino said: “This train made Nogales and is the future of Nogales and it’s going to take us to the next century. We’re going to be a prosperous city, the (most) prosperous city in the whole state of Arizona, the gateway to Mexico, Nogales, Ariz.”
Aaron Hunt, a representative of Union Pacific Railroad, noted that his company is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and said Nogales had played a significant and special role in that history. He presented Garino with a proclamation that recognized Nogales’ historic connection to Union Pacific and officially added the city to its Train Town USA registry.
UP supplied one of the engines that participated in the re-enactment. Pointed south, the company’s bright-yellow locomotive met face-to-face with a red-and-green counterpart from Ferromex, which faced north. Between them hung a banner bearing the “Rails Make Nogales” logo.
UP also distributed souvenir banners and paper fans to audience members, and the city handed out buttons, bumper stickers and a color Arizona Centennial Celebration program depicting local history through photos, including some of the railroad.
Standing in the park after the ceremony, Guillermo Sanchez Heredia of Nogales, Sonora clutched the souvenirs and his ID card from Ferrocarriles Nacionales de Mexico, the railroad company that eventually became Ferromex after being privatized by the Mexican government. Sanchez said he worked for the railroad for 36 years, serving at one point as manager of sleeper cars in Nogales, Sonora before retiring in 1988.
“It’s a great thrill,” he said of seeing Thursday’s re-enactment. “For me, there are no words to explain it. The railroad was my life.”