He’ll make the trains run again.
Peña Nieto surprised many at his Dec. 1 inauguration when he announced a multibillion-dollar plan to restore passenger rail service in Mexico, nearly 15 years after his own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) finished dismantling it.
His proposals start with the completion of a rail line across the Yucatan Peninsula linking the colonial city of Merida to the beach resorts of the Mayan Riviera. As soon as next year, cruise ship passengers and sunburned college kids may be swilling cold beers in air-conditioned cars while the scenery zips by at 110 mph, stopping at archaeological sites and jungle lodges.
Far more ambitious will be a $4.5 billion high-speed line between Mexico City and Queretaro, the booming manufacturing and aerospace hub 120 miles northwest of the capital. Long-term plans would extend the route to Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, eventually filling sleek rail cars with business executives, tourists and families freed up from the country’s clogged highways.
“In the history of Mexico, passenger trains have been a symbol of modernity,” Peña Nieto declared during an inaugural speech that laid out his top 10 presidential priorities. “We will once again have passenger service to connect our cities.”
The 46-year-old Peña Nieto made his political reputation as governor of the state of Mexico by drafting to-do lists of major hard-hat projects and then checking them off, casting himself as a deeds-not-words leader who stuck to his electoral promises. Much of the infrastructure funding was raised by luring private capital, and Peña Nieto officials say they want the trains eventually to be run by private concessions, not a state agency.
But his plans to revive Mexico’s railroad glory have been big on boldness and short on details. In an interview, Mexico’s secretary of transportation and communications, Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, acknowledged that engineers were still drawing up feasibility studies and cost estimates for the Mexico City-Queretaro project, which envisions 100,000 daily passengers riding the rails between the cities by 2016 and construction underway within a year.
“Our productivity depends on this,” Ruiz Esparza said. “The rest of the world has its eye on Mexico. This is critical to our competitiveness.”
He and other Mexican officials describe the project as an environmentally minded solution to the country’s growing traffic and pollution woes, and a way to ensure that foreign investment in Mexican industry keeps chugging along.
Tracks clogged with cargo
Mexico’s existing railroad network was essentially completed more than a century ago, and today the system is a backbone of the $1 billion-a-day trade partnership between the United States and Mexico. Rail lines link deep-water ports on Mexico’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts to assembly plants in the central and northern highlands, then feed directly into the United States, the world’s most lucrative export market.