By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The United States and Mexico, which have nearly $600 billion in annual trade, will launch on Tuesday the first new rail link between the two countries in more than a century, in the Texas border city of Brownsville, officials said.
The West Rail Bypass International Bridge will connect Brownsville with Matamoros, its neighboring city across the border, and will carry freight between the two countries, the U.S. Commerce Department said.
"The West Rail project, which broke ground in December 2010, was designed to expand regional transportation capacity, improve air quality and alleviate urban congestion by re-routing rail traffic out of the most populated areas in both border cities," it said.
There are currently eight rail crossings between the United States and Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
All the locations are equipped with X-ray systems that can scan arriving rail traffic. There are also Border Patrol agents and sniffer dogs for on-site inspections, it said.
The new crossing comes as prominent U.S. politicians, mostly Republicans, have called for tightening controls along the border to cut down on illegal immigrants and illicit goods entering the country.
Mexico is the third-largest bilateral goods trading partner of the United States, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by James Dalgleish)