Once the contingent from America is aboard, the train pulls into the Mexican heartland. Curious Tijuanans stare as the train makes its way through the city and past the modern Tijuana jail. Once the train crosses the concrete-lined channel of the Tijuana River, the city seen through the car windows is big and prosperous. On a distant hill, a huge cathedral's blue domes glisten.
Multistoried apartment houses line the bluff-tops for miles. Factories and warehouses abound: Hyundai, Mattel, Sony. Many have help-wanted signs seeking "ambos sexos" -- both sexes. The so-called maquiladoras, or "twin plants," which make goods bound for the United States, can be seen along the tracks for the first two hours or more, as the train picks up speed. If this is to be a jobs train, then it seems the jobs belong to Mexico.
New districts appear to have sprung up from nowhere. It's a world apart from San Diego. Huge dormitory-like buildings are everywhere. Newly framed residential construction stretches across the hills. The train travels south past giant Rodriguez Dam and into yet another valley, overflowing with new, neatly laid-out industrial parks filled with the factories of multinational corporations. Against the backdrop of the well-painted factories, a few human beings can be seen. One, a middle-aged man, brushes his teeth in the back of a large truck, where he appears to be living with his wife and young daughter. Families wave cheerfully from their hillside shanties. Dogs bark and roosters crow.
Several hours later, an hour or so before Tecate, the engineer comes to a stop halfway up a formidable hillside grade. It is time for the train buffs to get off and take pictures of the dusty train for their collections. Across the valley the toll road to Tecate can be seen, busy with diesel trucks. In the distance, big new gasoline holding tanks mar the otherwise pristine rural scenery. When the photographers are done, the train moves on to Tecate for lunch and a change of engines. When the tourists return, the train is pulled by an old steam engine, built 80 years ago and restored by the San Diego Railroad Museum.
In the afternoon, an hour or so out of Tecate, the train stops for another photo session several miles south of the U.S. border. The tourists file out of the cars and take their position on a steep hill next to the track to wait for the train to back down the hill so it can return around the corner: a perfect shot of belching smoke and steam. The huge engine has trouble getting traction on the weed-covered tracks and must be pushed by the diesel that had pulled the train in the morning.
As the train buffs wait for the problem to be solved, a contingent of Mexican federal police carrying automatic weapons appear on the crest of the hill and begin interrogation of the photographers. After the session is over, they follow the tourists back to the train and stand guard to make sure no stragglers remain behind.
Less than 20 minutes later, the train enters a short tunnel and emerges into the United States, where it stops for what is supposed to be its final photo shoot as it chugs across the 80-year-old trestle.
But U.S. Customs and the Border Patrol are upset that millions of federal dollars have been spent on personnel and high-tech devices to make the border secure. This is the tunnel that Congressman Duncan Hunter fears. If regular freight service along this line is ever resumed, Hunter says, Mexican bandits may use it to enter the country. If tourists can get off the train with impunity, then drug and arms smugglers might penetrate the border. As the 250 or so passengers file off the train and take their positions on a hillside overlooking the tunnel, the conductor's walkie-talkie begins to cackle.
Ten federal agents waiting at the railway museum are demanding that the train continue onto its last stop in Campo and be cleared through customs before anybody can get off, period. Otherwise, says the voice over the walkie-talkie, "a couple hundred people will be in big trouble." A frustrated conductor argues for a bit and then gives in. The amateur photographers are put back aboard and watch from the windows as the train rolls past several complements of grim-faced Border Patrol agents staked out along State Highway 94. They do not return the waves of the tourists.