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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Experts on the ground share doubts about the Mayan Train

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Map of the Mayan Train rail network and a list of planned stops and stations. Photo: Courtesy

The Mayan Train was proposed in 2018 by then presidential candidate Andrés  Manuel López Obrador as a way to stimulate economic development and tourism in Mexico’s southeast. 

Since its inception, the project has been controversial. Arguments against the rail project range from the social and environmental, to the economic and logistical. 

Environmental protests at Mayan Train work sites have become more common as the devastation the project has left in its wake has become more obvious. Photo: Courtesy

It is no secret that work on the Mayan Train is behind schedule. But how far behind construction really is, or if the project can be finished by the end of López Obrador’s term, is unclear. 

As Phase 4 of the Mayan Train follows the highway from Mérida to Cancun, it is for many living on the Peninsula the most visible stretch of the project. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

To get an idea of what is going on we spoke to two people working on the project, a civil engineer and an archaeologist.

Both professionals spoke freely with us but requested that we not use their names, as speaking out on their views would be likely to get them in hot water. 

For the first of these conversations, we spoke with an archaeologist working on Phase 3 of the Mayan Train, which begins in Calkiní, Campeche and ends in Izamal, Yucatán. 

Yucatán Magazine: Thank you for speaking with us. What has your experience working on the Mayan Train been like?

Answer: Professionally, I would have to say it has been fantastic, it’s not like there is tons of work for archaeologists, so the chance to work on such a large project has been very rewarding.

Large stone head found during excavations related to Mayan Train construction in the west of the state of Campeche: Photo: Courtesy

Furthermore, we really have come across some very interesting finds and are quite excited to see what else we come across during construction. There is much criticism of the project with regards to its potential destruction of cultural heritage, but I can tell you that all the parties involved are being extremely careful and conservative in this respect.  

YM: Have there been complications you or members of your team did not foresee?

A: Honestly there have been so many I have lost count. I love the work but honestly, there is more than enough work just in Phase 3 of the project for an entire six years. I very much doubt we will be able to finish anything resembling on time. 

Because archaeological remains along the Mayan Train’s route are so numerous, all construction sites must be surveyed before work can begin. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

YM: Is it just the amount of work or are there other factors at play?

A: Like any government project in Mexico, the Mayan Train is riddled with bureaucracy and nepotism. We have people calling the shots who have no idea what is really going on, but other than that, yes, it’s also simply an impossible amount of work. 

I will give you an example, there is a huge amount of rail sitting on the outskirts of Maxcanú at the moment. The person in charge of procuring the vehicles to transport them to the worksites had no idea what he was doing and contacted a friend’s fleet of trucks to move them. To make a long story short, the rails proved too heavy and the rails are just sitting there. 

Dozens of large piles of rails delivered from China sit on the side of the road on the outskirts of Maxcanú, Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

YM: If you are unable to finish your surveying on time, what do you think will happen?

A: Well, now that the president has declared the project an issue of national security, I fear they will simply go ahead with construction in areas without our go-ahead. I voted for López Obrador, and probably would do it all over again, but he really should have listened to his consultants from the start and avoided committing to overly ambitious projects, which in the end are likely to lay unfinished. 

A civil engineer’s doubts

During our second conversation, we spoke with a civil engineer working on Phase 4 of the Mayan Train, which starts in Izamal and ends on the outskirts of Cancún. 

Yucatán Magazine: How is construction currently going on Phase 4?

Answer: We have been working extremely hard and are gaining some important ground, but we are still extremely behind schedule.

YM: How far behind are we talking here?

A: The official delay is five months, but in reality, at this rate, we are more like a year and-a-half behind where we should be at this point. 

YM: Why exactly is that?

A: It comes off to the scope of the project. We have simply taken on too much. We have actually been gaining some ground when it comes to clearing vegetation and setting the stage to lay rail, but even there we are behind. And this is to say nothing of other necessary pieces of infrastructure such as over and underpasses as well as the train stations.

YM: What are your thoughts with regards to the computer-generated images released for the planned stations?

A: When I saw them I was simply shocked, we ourselves had never seen such plans. They are gorgeous, I will give them that, but no more than a pipe dream. 

Computer-generated images of the planned Mayan Train stations were always meant to be illustrative, but what exactly these stations will actually look like if and when completed remains unknown. Photo: Courtesy

YM: Given the resources you currently have, how long do you think it would take to make AMLO’s vision as it has been presented a reality?

A: Honestly, we are looking at somewhere between eight and 10 more years. The thing is that this should not come as a surprise as it’s what we have known since the beginning. We had auditors come from Spain and that’s the timeline they gave us. 

YM: Do you think that the project will eventually be finished or that it will end up being abandoned?
A: Last weekend’s election bodes well for the project, as Quintana Roo will now be governed by the president’s party, making Yucatán the only opposition state. But ultimately it will come down to who the next president will be, and if they decide to continue with the project or simply abandon it.

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