What has been presented as his government’s most ambitious work could become a headache for President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador .

Through the construction of the “modern, touristic, and cultural” Mayan Train , López Obrador will seek to connect some of southern Mexico’s most important archeological centers spread across five states.

The project is meant to promote economic development in the region’s main tourist centers such as Cancún, Tulum, Calakmul, Palenque, and Chichen Itzá .

The Mayan Train route would conclude in four years time , according to AMLO, who also announced that the project would have a cost of between 6,000 and 8,000 million dollars .

“This project is very important for the connectivity of one of Mexico’s most important regions in terms of cultural heritage to the world. It is safe to say that no other region in the world is as culturally rich as this, the former home of the great Mayan culture,” stated AMLO.

The ambitious project is an extension of a previous plant to build a 900 kilometers railway through the states of Quintana Roo, Chiapas, and Tabasco . The extended railway would also cover the states of Campeche and Yucatán . According to Mexico’s President-elect, the extension is partly due to the right of way of an old train that went from Palenque to Valladolid which is still in force.

In order to finance said project, the President-elect proposed to use funds collected through Mexico’s Tourist Taxes , which represent an annual income of around 370 million dollars . “We will have access to these funds during the six years of our administration,” López Obrador stated.

“But since that will not be enough, we will call a meeting to start a partnership with the private sector, aiming to finance the project through mixed investment .”

López Obrador pointed out that his administration would launch the necessary public contracts to speed up the train construction from the moment he took office on December 1 .

To some, the Mayan Train represents López Obrador’s most important project for his six-year term.

“I believe it is a good project,” commented Bendreff Dessilus

, an investigator from the Business Faculty at the La Salle University in an interview with BBC .

“I doubt that the country can continue to grow without proper railways, both for the circulation of people and merchandise,” he concluded.

AMLO’s Mayan Train: Pros and cons
AMLO’s Mayan Train: Pros and cons

The projected route for AMLO's Mayan Train - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Challenges for the Mayan Train project

Although the plan itself has aroused the interest of Mexico’s business sector, some people still have doubts regarding the project’s financing and deadline.

“As the construction progresses, investors are likely to find certain difficulties that will demand for the project to be modified, meaning that it will take more time than planned. I would say that it would take all six years of government,” Dessilus stressed.

How will he get the resources? Will he raise taxes? The President-elect has said that he would not increase taxes, but the wage cuts that he has proposed to implement through his Austerity Plan will not be enough to finance the project.”

A few days before discussing the Mayan Train, López Obrador announced a national consultation to decide whether Mexico City’s New International Airport (NAICM) was to be cancelled.

BBC journalist Alberto Nájar

reminded that the President-elect had opposed the construction of the new airport from the start of his electoral campaign, due to the cost it would represent for public finances.

“But he also plans to use public resources for the construction of the train, which some have deemed as an inconsistency,” Nájar added.

In addition to budget challenges, which is one of the reasons that led Enrique Peña Nieto’s railway projects to fail, negotiating with local communities that will be affected by the construction throughout all 1,500 kilometers of railroad will also pose a serious challenge, since some of these lands belong to public land owners and indigenous peoples .

The route projected for the train’s construction would also have to cross over some ecological reserves , which would bring environmental consequences in the region’s jungles .

“The project outline is very interesting, but it poses many challenges, not only regarding the environment, but also in terms of infrastructure: There is a long list of rivers and lakes that are likely to become a problem for engineers,” commented Eduardo Ramírez Leal, chairman of the Mexican Chamber of Construction Industry (CMIC) .

“Job creation in the southeast could be one of the great benefits of the project, since there is still a lot of poverty and inequality in some of these states.”

As for the construction, Ramírez Leal views the Mayan Train as an opportunity to boost Mexico’s construction industry .

“We expect a lot of support for Mexican construction and engineering companies during the development of the project,” he stated.

When asked about the ambitious project, the chairman of the Confederation of National Commerce, Services, and Tourism Chambers, José Manuel López stated that the train should be used for freight transport as well.

If the train is made for mixed use , it could detonate economic growth in other sectors of the southeast region, and not just tourism, according to the businessman, who concluded that the government should work with local communities directly for the activation of their economy.


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