Concerns Raise Over Mexico's Mayan Train Timeline

If you haven’t heard about the Mayan Train project, you soon will as this may be Mexico’s biggest infrastructure project in 100 years.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is putting the Mayan Train project at the top of the list, saying that it will bring in more tourists to Mexico’s southeast, providing an economic boon for hotels, restaurants and more importantly, Mexico’s poorest communities.

The train would circle through the Yucatan Peninsula and near the Guatemala border in the south. In addition to hauling cargo, it will serve tourists and workers in the resorts of the Riviera Maya.

Lopez Obrador only has a six-year term and will be leaving office on December 1, 2024. He wants the train to be running before the end of his term. The plans for Mayan Train’s completion indicate that 950 miles of train tracks will be built in 4.8 years, which seems outrageous when compared to similar projects in Canada, Britain and France which took seven to 10 years to complete on average.

“Yes, we’ve skipped some steps, but we are forced to by the circumstances of the political terms,” said Rogelio Jiménez Pons, director of Fonatur, according to the Daily Reporter. “It’s a six-year term, so if you don’t get at least a year of operation for the project it’s at serious risk.”

There are other things about the project that don’t seem feasible beyond the timeline. The president has said, “Not a single tree will be felled,” even though the train is meant to travel through the jungle, specifically the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO area and Mexico’s largest jungle full of archeological ruins, wildlife, underground rivers and caverns.

“The project has major ecological implications and the design has to change and the magnitude has to change so nothing serious happens,” said Jorge Benítez, when speaking about the 3 million tourists expected to visit the Calakmul Biosphere via the Mayan Train.

Einar Jesús Medina Borges who heads the local carriage drivers’ union of Merida also has concerns about the ecological impact of the train.

“What we also have in mind is what ecological impact is this project going to have?” Medina said. “The people in charge of all this need to make sure it causes the least ecological damage, ecological impact, possible.”

Others point out that the president has projected a cost of $6.3 to $7.9 billion for the train, even though the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness has estimated the cost to be $25.3 billion.

Ana Thaís Martínez, a researcher who wrote the study that the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness published, pointed out that Mexico’s recent rail project between Mexico City and Toluca is already 90 percent over its $2 billion budget and is still unfinished even though it was meant to be completed by 2017.

Jiménez Pons, who is leading the Mayan Train project, and says that the government will only pay 10 percent of the cost while the rest will be picked up through the private sector. He claims that all the environmental studies and consultations with indigenous communities in the area will be completed, too.

“This isn’t a whim, an imposition or because Mexico’s president is from the southeast,” López Obrador said in December at an indigenous ceremony in Palenque. “Above all it’s an act of justice, because it’s been the most abandoned region, and now the southeast’s hour has arrived.”

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