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Setbacks old and new plague the Mayan Train’s progress

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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.
Plans for the Mayan Train and its avant-garde stations are ambitious, but it is yet to be seen if they can be finished on time and budget. Photo: Fonatur

More than halfway through AMLO’s tenure, the president’s largest infrastructure project, the Mayan Train, is only 10% complete.

Of the 158 kilometers the rail network is supposed to cover in Yucatán, only 12 have been completed, according to the project’s state representative, Aarón Rosado Castillo. 

Despite this fact, authorities say the project remains on track to be completed by December 2024 — though admittedly the project has faced many unforeseen challenges. 

The route of the Mayan Train is to span the Mexican states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo.

Among the factors slowing down construction have been a number of legal challenges to land claims through which the rail network was to traverse. Much of this opposition has come from indigenous groups, an embarrassing state of affairs for the president who has always positioned himself as an ally of the Maya of southeastern Mexico. 

On several occasions these legal challenges have been upheld by judges in Yucatán who have ruled for the project to stop on the basis that it is a threat to several endangered species of flora and fauna. Nonetheless, construction appears to continue. 

Project directors have also admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to some delays, but that these have been overcome through the hard work of the project’s engineers and labourers.

Another perhaps not unforeseen, but important factor at slowing the project down has been the over 10,000 ancient archaeological remains found along the train’s path. 

Earlier: New images of the Mayan Train spark imagination

“It may be time to consider the cancelation of the Mayan Train. We should be prioritizing the Mayan way of life and culture, not the interests of the government and business,” said Pedro Uc, representative of the Asamblea de Defensores del Territorio Maya Múuch Xíinbal.

Indigenous leaders have suggested that the Mayan Train’s 170-billion-peso budget be allocated to build hospitals and provide essential services for people living in poverty across the region.

The news that the Mayan Train station serving Mérida will be located approximately 60 minutes out of the city, and not in Mérida’s La Plancha, has frustrated some, but come as a relief to others who considered the previous plan to be untenable. 

There are also those who believe that all the previous points will ultimately be irrelevant, as the ambitious trail network will never operate and will end up being a hugely expensive white elephant.

“This Maya Train will never be completed. They will declare it finished, fly the president down to ride along a small stretch and call it a day. Mark my words,” said Xavier Avila Gomñez, a local engineer from Campeche on Facebook.

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