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When MotherEarthGives You A BuildingPermit Image Credit: Bloomberg Businessweek
When MotherEarthGives You A BuildingPermit Image Credit: Bloomberg Businessweek

When Mother Earth Gives You A Building Permit

AMLO’s passion project is a 900-mile train to connect beach resorts and colonial-era towns.

Andrea Navarro

One day last December, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador donned a beaded necklace and bowed his head reverently before a fire pit, to ask Mother Earth for permission to build a railroad through the heart of Mayan territory.

The line, which will stretch 1,460 kilometers (900 miles) across five Mexican states, may carry more than 8,000 passengers a day. It will serve some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, including seaside resorts Cancún and Tulum, Mérida and other colonial-era towns, and archaeological sites like Chichén Itzá. For AMLO, as Mexico’s leader is widely known, the Mayan Train is something of a passion project. Critics call it an expensive folly.

Rusty railways dating to the 1950s cover less than half of the proposed route, but they’ll have to be completely overhauled to handle modern rolling stock. That’s the easy part. To lay track along the rest of the route, construction crews will have to cut through miles of rainforest, home to jaguars, which are endangered in Mexico, and pumas.

The most difficult part of the undertaking may be finding investors to finance the project’s cost of as much as 150 billion pesos (about $7.9 billion). AMLO’s government hasn’t specified how it came up with that number, nor has it commissioned a study to prove there will be sufficient passenger and cargo volume to make the line commercially viable. The


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