There is one passenger train project that is going ahead, unaffected by budget cuts — or protests by neighborhood organizations.
Falling oil prices prompted Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray Caso in January to announce public spending cuts of 124 billion pesos (US $8.3 billion), an austerity measure that affected President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan to establish a Mexican passenger train network.
Two projects were canceled: a high-speed train linking Mexico City and Querétaro and the Transpeninsular Train, which would have connected Yucatán and Quintana Roo states.
But the 38-billion-peso Mexico City-Toluca train, which is designed to carry 270,000 passengers a day over its 58-kilometer route, is going ahead.
The contract for the first stretch of the interurban line had already been awarded to the Spanish firm OHL Group and Hermes Group, a Mexican company headed by businessman Carlos Hank González.
But in the meantime, members of neighborhood organizations have protested and organized against the project for more than six months. They argue that it is the only train that remains under construction despite budget cuts because of the influence of former State of México Gov. Arturo Montiel Rojas, who is also an uncle to President Peña Nieto.
Marco Polo Vázquez, a member of Sante Fe Citizens United, says the group has information showing that Montiel Rojas wants to build a tourist development on the slopes of the Nevado de Toluca mountain.
Rojas made public his intention to invest in an international ski resort in the area in 2003, but the idea floundered because it is located within a national park.
However, a report yesterday by Sin Embargo points out that during Peña Nieto’s first year as president the area’s protected status was downgraded to “Protected Area.” The reason given for the change was that the area had deteriorated due to wildfires, illegal logging and tourism, and it was necessary to permit private activity in the area for its rehabilitation by private enterprise.
“The Toluca Train project is full of opacity,” said Vázquez, a Santa Fe resident.
He claims that neighbors have never been consulted over the train, and cites issues such as the fact that Santa Fe is a mining zone, and extremely risky for 25 to 30-meter-deep foundations. In March 2014, Vázquez said, a 100-meter-deep sinkhole opened up at the Observatorio Metro station.
The Federal District Human Rights Commission has received 87 complaints about the train from residents of Santa Fe and other zones adjacent to the route.
In December, there were charges of irregularities in the awarding of one of the project’s contracts.
Due to go into service in 2017, the line will reduce travel time between the two cities to 38 minutes from the current 90 minutes by automobile. There are to be 15 electrically-powered trains with 10 cars each, with each car having capacity for 1,400 passengers.
The train is forecast to bring benefits in both safety and environmental terms. On average there are 30 fatalities as a result of the 400 accidents a year on the highway between the two cities. And the vehicles that traverse the route create carbon dioxide emissions totaling 34,500 tonnes annually.
Source: Sin Embargo (sp)