The Chief of the Division of Mexican Affairs (McGurk) to the Ambassador in Mexico (Messersmith)


Dear Mr. Ambassador: I refer to your letters and enclosures of July 22 and 25, 194414 reporting on the present status of the movement of freight cars between the United States and Mexico and in regard to the control which the American Association of Railways has been exercising in this regard. You stated that Dr. Padilla had asked you to take up this matter with the Department and with Colonel Johnson, and in your second letter under reference you forwarded a letter from Dr. Padilla addressed to Colonel Johnson. That letter has been delivered together with copies of your letters.

You raised at least four main questions in your letters, and these questions have been very thoroughly discussed with the American Association of Railways, which apparently is the responsible organization for the movement of American freight cars, and with Colonel Johnson. The four questions which you raised may be summarized as follows:

On what authority does the American Association of Railways regulate the movement of freight cars between the United States and Mexico?
Who should exercise control or regulate the movement of cars, if regulation is necessary?
How can any necessary control be exercised?
What should be considered the normal number of American freight cars in Mexico?

[Page 1254]

The answer to the first question apparently is that the American Association of Railways represents the owners of the freight cars under consideration and that the Mexican National Railways is a member of that Association and with that membership not only enjoys the rights of membership but also the control exercised by the Association over its other members. I understand that similar restrictions are exercised by the Association over its members at all times. For example, during the present wheat loading season the member railroads make daily reports of their available cars and of their grain loadings and if they do not make efficient use of the cars available, measures are taken to restrict the delivery of cars to them. Conversely, if a railroad is short of cars for actual loading, other railroads are ordered to deliver cars to the grain loading railroad. The Association feels that the regulation of the delivery of cars to the National Railways of Mexico is merely along the lines of this well-established practice.

Apparently the interest of the ODT15 in this matter is not in regard to procedures, but the responsibility of the ODT is to see that all transportation equipment is as fully utilized as possible in the defense effort. In the carrying out of this responsibility, it, of course, is in a position to insist that the Association and its members make the best possible use of their equipment.

The second question, who should control or regulate the movement of cars, if regulation is necessary, is a very important one, as you point out, because of the repercussions which may arise from any impression or conviction that an agency of this Government or an American organization is exercising control in Mexico. The present situation is admittedly very unsatisfactory. The Mexicans feel that we are interfering in an internal problem in Mexico, according to Mr. Ortiz’ memorandum.16 He feels that little attention is being given to requests that certain materials be given precedence over others. On the other hand, the Railway Association is in the awkward position of trying to regulate from Washington the movement of freight cars into Mexico without having an established and direct liaison with the Mexican Railways. The attached copy of a letter dated July 24, from Mr. Arnett17 to Mr. Jaime of the National Railways of Mexico18 indicates the apparently sincere desire of the AAR19 to be guided by Mexico’s wishes, but in view of the cases cited by Mr. Ortiz which had not come to the attention of Mr. Arnett it is very [Page 1255] apparent that liaison in this regard is not very effective. The Association itself realizes that the procedure is full of undesirable possibilities in spite of their apparently sincere desire to cooperate fully.

It is possible that the situation could be easily solved by a mutual recognition of the problem, which might be stated somewhat as follows:

The capacity of the Mexican railroads to handle freight is definitely limited;
To avoid piling up of freight cars at the border or within Mexico it is necessary to control the release of cars toward the border;
Within the limits established by the capacity of the Mexican railroads to handle freight and within wartime limitations, it is certainly up to the Mexicans to determine what freight should be given precedence.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The answer to the third question, how can any necessary control be exercised, may possibly lie in a procedure which the AAR already follows in this country. In St. Louis, for example, there is a regional control or liaison officer who keeps in constant contact with the office here in Washington, supplying information and transmitting instructions to railroads in the region. I believe the AAR would be willing to arrange for such an officer in Mexico City, who, within the physical limitations of the Mexican railroads, would receive from the Mexican National Railways an expression of its wishes as to what freight should be loaded on American lines to maintain an equalized flow to and from the border. In that case, neither the liaison officer nor the American Association of Railways would have discretionary powers as to what should be loaded or what should be denied loading permits. The liaison officer would merely be the channel for reporting to the Mexican Railways information regarding loading applications and other important details and for receiving from the Mexican Railways instructions as to what freight should have preference. I do not think it would be very advisable for us to make suggestions to the Mexicans as to how they should determine their preference.

The fourth question, as to what should be considered the normal number of American freight cars in Mexico at a given time without causing concern, is one on which a good many estimates have been made, ranging from 3,500 to 7,000. I do not think that the ODT would be willing to release its pressure on the AAR until the number of cars in Mexico has at least been reduced to the higher figure. After that, it would appear desirable to effect further reductions but perhaps at a more leisurely rate. Success in this undertaking, of course, depends on many technical factors and especially on further improvement in railroad efficiency in Mexico. It is pointed out here that as of April 1, 1944, on the only occasion when such a check was made, the ratio of [Page 1256] loadings in Mexico to cars held was 8.3 to 1, while the ratio considered normal on American railroads is 3 to 1.

In your discretion, you may wish to discuss the suggestions made in this letter, which are acceptable to the AAR and the ODT, with Dr. Padilla.

With all good wishes,

Sincerely yours,

J. F. McGurk
  1. Letters and enclosures, with exception of Mr. E. M. Bishop’s letter of July 21, supra, not printed.
  2. Office of Defense Transportation.
  3. Copy of memorandum dated July 19, 1944, transmitted in letter of July 22 from Ambassador Messersmith to Mr. McGurk; neither printed.
  4. Mr. Hamilton Arnett, Association of American Railroads.
  5. Letter to Mr. J. A. Jaime, Superintendent of Car Service, Mexico City, not found in Department files.
  6. American Association of Railways.