Tuesday, July 23, 2024

What’s next for the Maya Train? President-elect Sheinbaum plans for the railroad’s future

President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum has given her seal of approval to the Maya Train railroad after taking two train trips in recent days with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Sheinbaum, who will take office Oct. 1, and López Obrador traveled from the Edzná Station in Campeche to the Teya Station near Mérida, Yucatán, on Friday.

They boarded the Maya Train again on Saturday to travel from Teya to the Cancún Airport Station in Quintana Roo.

On Sunday, Sheinbaum took to social media to declare that the as-yet-incomplete railroad is “a historic feat.”

“It’s not just the more than 1,500 kilometers [of tracks] built in five years and the beauty of the trip. It’s the recovery of the archaeological sites, the decree of hundreds of thousands of hectares of Natural Protected Areas, the investment in the well-being of dozens of communities,” she wrote on X.

“… It’s also recognizing ourselves in the grandeur of the Maya culture of then and now. Congratulations to all the companies, engineers, workers and military engineers. What has been achieved is something amazing,” added Sheinbaum.

Conductor standing in doorway of Maya Train railroad car
Sections 1-4 of the Maya Train are already completely open. (Isabel Mateos Hinojosa/Cuartoscuro)

Environmental groups and others have criticized the project, which cut down large swathes of forest to build the tracks. In addition, steel and cement pilings pierced through the roofs of limestone caves along a section of the railroad in Quintana Roo. Experts said the perforations affected the quality of subterranean water and destroyed “archaeological and geological heritage.”

Environmentalists have expressed a range of other concerns about the construction and operation of the US $20 billion railroad, including the potential impact on wildlife.

López Obrador inaugurated construction of the railroad in June 2020, and pledged at the time to complete it in 28 months, or by October 2022. However, the project has faced a range of challenges, including court rulings that have temporarily halted work.

AMLO: Maya Train project will be finished in August or September 

Sections 1–4 of the 1,554-kilometer-long railroad — which link Palenque, Chiapas, to Cancún, Quintana Roo, via Tabasco, Campeche and Yucatán — are already open, as is the northern part of Section 5, which connects Cancún to Playa del Carmen.

Yet to open is the southern part of Section 5 between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, and Sections 6 and 7. The new track will link Tulum to Escárcega, Campeche, and include stations at Bacalar and Chetumal.

In an address on Friday President López Obrador and Sheinbaum inaugurated a new museum at the Edzná archaeological site. Afterward, the president said that the entire Maya Train railroad would open “at the end of August” or in “the middle of September.”

A map showing the planned route of the Maya Train, which forms a circuit around the Yucatán Peninsula.
Three sections of the Maya Train have yet to open: the southern part of section 5 (purple), section 6 (light green) and section 7 (blue). (Tren Maya)

“We’re going to conclude the whole Cancún-Tulum-Chetumal-Calakmul-Escárcega circuit, we’re going to finish the 1,540 kilometers of tracks,” he said.

López Obrador said he was “very proud” of the progress on the project, perhaps his government’s most ambitious infrastructure endeavor. He said it provides improved access to a region of great cultural and historical importance.

“The Maya Train was conceived [as a means] to once again connect the ancient Maya cities,” he said.

“… There is no other region in the world like what the Maya nation was and continues to be. … There isn’t … such a large region where a great culture flourishes. There are [other] important places. There is Athens in Greece, of course, but here there are several ‘Athens’ in just the Maya world,” López Obrador said, mentioning archeological sites such as Palenque, Chichén Itzá and Calakmul.

The president has long argued that the construction and operation of the Maya Train railroad will bring economic and social benefits to Mexico’s historically disadvantaged south and southeast. Sheinbaum has expressed her agreement with that view.

Maya Train could be extended to the port of Progreso 

Sheinbaum told reporters in Yucatán on Saturday that her team and the current government were looking at the funding the Maya Train railroad will require in 2025 in order to consolidate the passenger service, and commence freight services.

She also said she was analyzing a proposal from Yucatán Governor-elect Joaquín Díaz to extend the Maya Train. Díaz hopes to connect the railroad to Progreso, a port city north of Mérida on the Gulf of Mexico.

Díaz, who will be the first Morena party governor of Yucatán, has a so-called “Maya Renaissance” economic plan for the state. The plan includes an extension of the Maya Train railroad to Progreso. Sheinbaum met with the incoming governor in Mérida on Friday.

With reports from El Universal, La Jornada, N+, EFE and Debate

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