Train wreck

Mexico City's Line 12 Metro accident becomes political challenge for AMLO.

On 3 May, an overpass on Mexico City’s Line 12 Metro collapsed beneath a passing train, killing 26 people and injuring a further 79.

The construction of the L-12 metro line was filled with financial and operational irregularities since the start of its operations more than eight years ago. After its opening, 11 from its 20 stations had to close for more than a year to undergo engineering reforms.

A senior figure at the Metro Union provided some context, “Since the construction of the Line 12, there was a lot of concern because the works were awarded to companies that were not specialists in subways and also because of the continuous and profound modifications to the original design.”

The union chief commented, “The previous two administrations must take responsibility, but since 2018 when the current mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and the director of the metro Florencia Serranía arrived, it was evident that maintenance was not given priority.”

“The previous two administrations must take responsibility, but since 2018, when Sheinbaum and Serranía arrived, it was evident that maintenance was not given priority.”

Senior figure, metro union, Mexico

The metro line was inaugurated by the mayor at the time, Marcelo Ebrard (currently Minister of Foreign Affairs). Claudia Shenbaum, is also from the Morena party. Both Ebrard and Sheinbaum are close to Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) and their political fortunes are irremediably intertwined.

The union leader continued, “The direct responsibilities will arise once the expert reports are concluded, but obviously there is joint responsibility between the Head of Government, Claudia Sheinbaum and the director of the metro, Florencia Serranía, since the main causes of the tragedy were the lack of supervision and maintenance.”

A senior consultant in railway infrastructure development in Mexico commented, “The truth is, whoever gets blamed, someone close to the President is going to have to defend themselves.”

“The truth is, whoever gets blamed, someone close to the President is going to have to defend themselves.”

Senior consultant, railway infrastructure development, Mexico

Public attention has also turned to Grupo Carso, owned by Carlos Slim and also close to AMLO, who participated in the consortium that built five Line 12 stations, including the accident-striken one. The railway consultant observed, “Grupo Carso has kept a low profile and will wait for the expert report before making an announcement. Carso can argue that they were forced to adjust the route by Mexico City, the train specification was changed too and the line wasn’t properly maintained.”

The union representative does not believe Carso will be affected much, “Although the companies that participated in the construction of Line 12 should share some responsibility for the accident, I don’t think they will ultimately suffer any consequences. AMLO is unlikely to take a hard stance against Carlos Slim.”

While the political cost of the accident is important for AMLO, the main priority must be caring for the victims and ensuring nothing like this can happens again. This must start with a technical investigation to define what went wrong and understand what or who is responsible, regardless of where that responsibility lies.

Worryingly, a senior figure in Mexico’s rail industry believes the lack of maintenance is a widespread problem, “The other subway lines, although in good condition, are also beginning to show some signs of lack of maintenance. In the future, the great challenge is the lack of financial resources and the management of those resources.”

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