Saturday, July 20, 2024

Mexico’s railroads have a colorful history

It’s too early to buy a ticket or get off the tracks, but that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel may indeed be an oncoming train. Or maybe a metaphor for a future Mexico.

Railroads in Mexico like in many other countries have a colorful history. A functioning system for both passengers and freight flourished until 1935 when the largely U.S.-owned rail network was nationalized.

On again, off again until 2000, when passenger service was essentially discontinued, it may be “on again” if a current scheme prospers.

My own history involving riding the rails in Mexico dates back several decades, A college friend and I decided to take the train, second class (about US $15 return), from Calexico to Mexico City. Four days outbound, three returning — “it’s downhill.”

There’s no need to describe the odyssey in detail: it’s been featured in countless movies, absent for us of course the bandidos galloping alongside, firing long barreled pistols in the air, stirrups a-flappin’ as they headed to the locomotive to stop the train and steal the gold bars from the baggage car, along with the passengers’ watches and wallets.

My romantic memories aside, a Mexican corrida, or sort of northern Mexico cowboy music, has enshrined in all Mexican memories Maquina 501, a moving lament of a fictional locomotive, and love, circa 1930.

The author's 501, a model of an imaginary locomotive.
The author’s 501, a model of an imaginary locomotive.

Fast forward to Guadalajara 2020. “It’s in a museum in New Mexico,” the artisan said of the locomotive, and the “501” I was about to purchase “was the inspiration for Levis jeans.” Neither is true, but my 501 is a magnificent machine, especially when considering the “real” 501 is imaginary. Immaculate to the last detail with engineer’s gauges and a flashing headlight for the end of the tunnel.

Flash to the future, circa 2025, as the Maya Train trundles north to the capital after a loop around Yucatán, whistle-stopping at Maya archaeological sites along the way.

It’s the dream of President López Obrador, letting contracts right and left, performing required environmental certifications himself, and just last week waving a starting flag, red in color.


Carlisle Johnson writes from his home in Guatemala.

Have something to say? Paid Subscribers get all access to make & read comments.
AMLOAMLO and Donald Trump walk down a red carpet in an elegant hallway. and Donald Trump walk down a red carpet in a long corridor.

In response to Trump speech, AMLO plans to send his ‘friend Donald’ a letter

"I think they're not informing him well about the migration issue and also about the importance of maintaining economic integration between the United States, Mexico and Canada," AMLO said Friday morning.
Claudia Sheinbuam stands with her new cabinet appointees on a stage with the words "Claudia Sheinbaum, Presidenta."

Claudia Sheinbaum names ministers of culture, tourism and labor

With the appointment of the three officials, only the army and navy ministries remain to be announced.
President Lopez Obrador at a podium in the National Palace

López Obrador says stricter gun control ‘urgently needed’ in US

After the recent attempt on Donald Trump's life, Mexico's president called on U.S. leaders to pledge to stricter federal gun controls.