TULUM, Quintana Roo – In a significant milestone for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ambitious Tren Maya project, the Director of the National Tourism Fund, Javier May, announced today that the first four train wagons have departed for Cancun. During the morning press conference, May revealed that the train embarked on its journey from the factory in Ciudad Sahagún, Hidalgo, to Quintana Roo, where the initial dynamic tests will take place in August, with the inauguration scheduled for December. The Tren Maya stands as one of the president’s top priorities, with a clear countdown to its anticipated completion before the year-end. May proudly declared on Monday, “We have delivered, and the Tren Maya is now a reality!”
Transported on large trucks, the initial train wagons are en route to the Cancun depot and workshops, where they are expected to arrive on July 8th for assembly. Static tests will be conducted throughout this month, and it won’t be until mid-August that the train will begin its inaugural journey from Cancun to Merida. “The first train is already en route, and the transformation of the southeast for inclusive development is in motion. We will fulfill our commitment to inaugurate the Tren Maya in December because in the 4T (Fourth Transformation), commitments are honored,” stated May.
The first train, currently comprised of the arrived wagons, has a seating capacity of 230 people. These wagons are manufactured by Alstom, and according to Maite Ramos, the company’s director in Mexico, two additional trains will be sent in August, followed by another 13 in December, and a further 26 throughout 2024. Measuring 25 meters in length, these wagons will traverse the 1,600-kilometer journey from Ciudad Sahagún to Cancun on large platforms due to their weight of over 50 tons per carriage, as clarified by Ramos. In Cancun, “the entire electromechanical and operational aspects of the train will be thoroughly tested before it can run on the tracks,” explained the entrepreneur, adding that the first train will cover 15,000 kilometers to ensure comprehensive inspection.
The timeline has become a crucial aspect of the mega Tren Maya project, set to traverse over 1,500 kilometers in the Yucatan Peninsula. President López Obrador has repeatedly declared that the train will be inaugurated in December, regardless of any challenges faced. However, progress varies significantly across the seven sections of the railway. While Section 1, connecting Palenque in Chiapas to Escárcega in Campeche, is already 80% complete, as announced on Monday, other sections, such as the controversial Section 5, passing through the delicate cave system from Cancun to Tulum, and Section 7, impacting the Calakmul Reserve, remain entangled in legal complications.
The Tren Maya represents President López Obrador’s flagship venture for the southern region of Mexico, with a focus on employment and tourism investment it will bring upon completion. Nevertheless, the environmental impact stemming from the construction and operation of the train has posed a significant challenge since the project’s inception. Deforestation spanning thousands of hectares, destruction of mangroves, construction on delicate terrains including cenotes and underground caves, and the development of large infrastructures on protected lands have stirred substantial environmental opposition against the project. The latest controversy involves the revelation of concrete filling cenotes.
Criticism has not only come from within Mexico; in April, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of the USMCA called for an “explanatory report” on the project. This report, compiled by experts from Mexico, the United States, and Canada as part of the North American trade agreement, aims to inform the public about the risks and environmental implications, given what they perceive as a lack of information provided by Mexican authorities. The commission notified the López Obrador government of their recommendation to issue the report, as the information provided by the administration fails to address concerns regarding compliance with the law.
The government initially approved a budget of 63 billion pesos for the Tren Maya; however, additional costs have already surged to an extra 32 billion pesos. By 2022, the flagship railway project had already seen a 51% increase in the allocation of public funds compared to the approved budget. Currently, the estimated cost of the train project exceeds 95 billion pesos, as per official figures.