Wednesday, June 19, 2024

What is happening with the México-Querétaro train project?

Technical studies for the CDMX-Querétaro passenger train are expected to conclude within five months, President López Obrador’s government has confirmed.

The company Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC), via its subsidiary Mexican company Kansas City México, will conduct the studies with the goal of presenting an initial plan for the management, cost and financing of the project by the end of the year.

Kansas City Southern Rail train
Kansas City México, a Mexican subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Kansas City, already operates much of Mexico’s existing overground rail network, and the Mexican government is keen to determine whether it is possible to extend existing rail services all the way to the capital. (William Hamlin/Twitter)

Although the project — which has been around before Lopez Obrador’s time in office — was originally conceived as a high-speed railway connecting to the two states, Infrastructure, Communications and Transport Minister Jorge Nuño’s recent statements indicate that the present government might have a different vision in mind.

“We don’t need a high-speed train, which would be very expensive, but a commuter train, such as the Suburban Train, to arrive in less than an hour-and-a-half to Querétaro,”. 

The Suburban Train is a commuter line that runs from Cuautitlán, a suburb north of Mexico City in México state, to Buenavista station in central Mexico City’s Cuauhtemóc borough.

President López Obrador first announced the possible collaboration with CPKC on 2 May. Although the company is primarily involved in freight transport, it was chosen for the project because it already holds concessions for cargo services on the Juárez-Morelos railway line from Mexico City to Querétaro.

Mexico's Infrastructure, Communications and Transport Minister Jorge Nuño
Infrastructure, Communications and Transport Minister Jorge Nuño stressed that a high-speed train connecting the two states is not what’s needed in the region, but a commuter rail, not unlike Mexico City’s Tren Suburbano (Suburban Train), which connects México state with the nation’s capital. (File photo/Presidencia)

“They are going to analyze the proposal we made to them. We want to have a passenger train to Querétaro because the road is saturated,” AMLO said at the time.

The idea of a high-speed passenger train from Mexico City to Querétaro, 250 km to the northeast of the capital, was first raised by President Peña Nieto’s administration. A US $3.75-billion construction contract was awarded to a Chinese-Mexican consortium but revoked in 2014, and the project was suspended due to budget cuts.

President López Obrador revived the project in October 2020 by including it in an investment package to be developed with the private sector. 

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum — a leading contender for the presidency in 2024 — has also expressed her support for the project as a priority for the next federal government.

Following the confirmation of Kansas City México’s collaboration, the general director of the Mexican Association of Railways Iker de Luisa Plazas, expressed his support for the project but warned a high-speed rail connection would require a different route from the current proposal.

He also stressed that a railroad should be seen as just one element of a wider project to improve urban and intercity transport in Mexico.

Info Transportes map
One previous vision of the proposed Mexico-Queretaro train route would have also linked it to another rail project yet to get off the ground, the Bajio Train project. This vision, rejected by the Infrastructure Ministry, would have connected Guanajuato state to Mexico City as well. (Info-Transportes)

“An important factor to consider is that demand for mobility is occurring a lot [within] cities, to a greater extent than between cities,” he said. “There are 20 subways and light-rail lines in Mexico City and the metropolitan area, as well as in Monterrey and Guadalajara. It is important to modernize and expand these systems.”

“Each project must be studied and analyzed for its viability and to determine its characteristics, technical challenges and estimates of necessary investment, which is what the government has contemplated for the Mexico-Querétaro passenger train,” he added.

Railway consultant Alfredo Nolasco agreed, stressing that careful study is required to ensure such projects do not become unsustainable burdens on public finances.

“We must leave behind the romantic idea of long train journeys and think about their viability in distances not so long that they compete with airplanes, nor so short that they compete with the bus,” he told El Economista newspaper.

“A medium-speed passenger train is a good solution, like the one intended for Querétaro, but there is a very high infrastructure cost that must be considered.”

 With reports from El Economista and Milenio

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