Mexican government blames loose rail switch clamps for recent Maya Train derailment

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government said Tuesday that a loose railway fitting caused a train car to derail on the president’s pet project, a tourist rail route known as the Maya Train.

The derailment on March 25 proved embarrassing for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who views the $20 billion railway as one of his signature building projects. No one was injured in the mishap.

Critics have said the project, which runs in a loop around the Yucatan peninsula, is wasteful and has damaged the environment. But others have expressed concern about the haste with which it is being built. López Obrador wants to finish it before he leaves office Sept. 30.

Illustrating the problem, Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said that the rail switch involved in the accident is eventually designed to be operated automatically.

While the automated system is not yet in place, the president wanted part of the line running anyway. So the switch — which shunts train cars onto another track — has to be manually loosened, moved and returned to its original position by hand.

In one of those operations, someone apparently didn’t tighten the fitting down again.

Sandoval said “this is what was found, that this clamp wasn’t tightened down.”

He said that the company which made the trains, Alstom, and the company that built that stretch of the rail line, Azvindi, “are analyzing and reviewing the amount of damage” done in the mishap.

López Obrador ordered the project built through a stretch of jungle, despite warnings from activists about the damage that would do to the sensitive limestone caves on the Yucatan peninsula.

The president promised to build an elevated platform for the rail line to avoid crushing the caves, but the concrete and steel pilings to support that were punched right into the caves.

In March, activists published photos of those steel and cement pilings being driven directly through the roofs of the caves.

The network of caves, sinkhole lakes and underground rivers along Mexico’s Caribbean coast are both environmentally sensitive and have been found to hold some of the oldest human remains in North America.

They provide the region’s only fresh water source, because there are no surface rivers on the flat, limestone peninsula.

Because the caves were dry some 10,000 years ago, humans and animals used them before they were mostly flooded at the end of the last Ice Age about 8,000 years ago, essentially preserving the relics from being disturbed.

In December, López Obrador inaugurated another, partly finished section of the train to the north and east, between Cancun and the colonial city of Campeche.

The 950-mile line runs in a rough loop around the Yucatan peninsula and it’s meant to connect beach resorts and archaeological sites.

The train was partly built by the Mexican army and will be run by the armed forces, to whom López Obrador has entrusted more projects than any other president in at least a century.


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