Here is an excerpt from Mary Flood's article in the Houston Chronicle:
"Union Pacific is failing in its responsibility to stop Mexican drug cartels from hiding narcotics on U.S-bound trains, according to a Justice Department lawsuit that railroad officials say places unrealistic demands on their business. Trains enter the U.S. from Mexico in nine places in Texas, California and Arizona. Six of those entry points are used by North America’s largest rail carrier, the Union Pacific Railroad, which has drawn a line in the sand about who should police trains headed north from Mexico. “Union Pacific cannot send its personnel into Mexico to locate drugs, because they would not be allowed to carry arms or use K-9 teams, would have no legal authority and would be forced to turn over drugs to unreliable authorities in Mexico. Union Pacific employees would be subject to arrest in Mexico and would be unarmed in the face of vicious drug gangs,” said Donna Kush, spokeswoman for the Omaha, Neb.-based railroad. But the federal government says it’s the railroad’s responsibility to use the “highest degree of diligence” and inspect in Mexico before moving literally tons of narcotics into the U.S." Link to Full Article
So, should US railroad companies be doing more to ensure their rail cars don't bring drugs into the US, or are their hands really tied by Mexican laws and the poor security situation in Mexico? While I don't claim to be an expert on railways, I suspect the answer is a little of both. I understand Union Pacific's argument regarding their inability to conduct inspections in Mexico. I don't know the details of how those inspections would occur, but I imagine that due to many reasons (endemic corruption in Mexico being one of them), drugs would make their way onto those railcars even after an inspection. I will say that a manual inspection of a train - especially without the assistance of K9s, or drug dogs - is incredibly time consuming, and hidden compartments are called hidden for a reason. I agree that, with the amount of rail traffic crossing the border every day, it's probably impossible to inspect every railcar on every train traveling from Mexico into the US, even with US inspectors being allowed to carry weapons or bring K9 units.
As for the Justice Department's position, I can understand that as well. If companies that run other transportation modes are held responsible for their cargo, then railroad companies should be, too. Shipping companies have large volumes of containers coming into US ports from hundreds of foreign ports of call, and while it's public knowledge that only a small percentage of those containers are inspected, it appears that shipping companies are still held responsible for any drugs discovered in those containers. The volume of air traffic arriving from foreign countries in the US is dizzying, but air cargo takes less time to inspect, and there's only one place to put it, so it's easier to observe or inspect all the cargo as it's loaded. Thus, it makes sense that airlines are held responsible for any drugs discovered in their cargo. All that being said, I find it odd that only Union Pacific is being sued and not the other rail companies that have cars coming across the border.
So, what is the solution for preventing drugs from coming into the US via rail? By giving Union Pacific the benefit of the doubt and assuming their claims of not being able to inspect rail cars in Mexico are true, then prevention at the point of origin is near impossible. US-bound trains aren't stopped and inspected at the nine train border crossings, so that is a non-option. The most feasible solution is to inspect trains upon arrival at their destination, but by that time, the drugs are already in the US and, according to Union Pacific, the rail company is held responsible even if they turn in the drugs to the authorities. The only solution I can see is dialogue between Washington, DC and Mexico City about this issue, and a future agreement between the two governments that would allow US rail company employees to conduct their inspections in Mexico with all the resources they require.