By KELIN DILLON
According to an investigative piece in the renowned international newspaper the New York Times (NYT), Mexico City’s tragic Line 12 metro accident in early May was largely the result of two Mexican public figures’ gross negligence in the construction and upkeep of the now-infamous route.
The U.S. publication pointed to Marcelo Ebrard, the country’s current secretary of foreign affairs and mayor of the capital at the time of the line’s inauguration, and billionaire businessman Carlos Slim, whose Grupo Carso construction company built the line, as the key figures responsible for the collapse.
The NYT investigative team took thousands of pictures of the crash site and sent them along to expert engineering teams, all of which reached the same conclusion: “The steel studs that were vital to the strength of the overpass — linchpins of the entire structure — appear to have failed because of bad welds, critical mistakes that likely caused the crash.”
“Another telltale sign of shoddy manufacturing: Workers failed to remove many ceramic rings that fit around the studs during installation,” found the investigation. Because of this, when the welds gave way and the studs broke off, the line was being carried exclusively by the steel beams disconnected from the concrete that were never meant to bear that kind of weight alone.
“A good quality weld would not have failed like that,” said Gary J. Klein, a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
The NYT found that “in a rush to finish, the city demanded that construction companies open the subway well before Mr. Ebrard’s term as mayor ended in 2012. The scramble led to a frenzied construction process that began before a master plan had been finalized and produced a metro line with defects from the start.”
The former Mexico City mayor apparently put in place a $120 million fine for contractors who did not finish construction before the end of his term in office, forcing construction to begin “even before a master plan had been completed” and encouraging negligence in favor of speed.
Pushed by Ebrard, incorrect carriages were ordered that didn’t fit properly on the tracks, causing the steel underneath the wheels to warp improperly. Then, “less than a year after certifying the line as safe, auditors produced a report documenting a litany of problems — cracked and broken parts, deformed tracks and a relentless pummeling of the tracks.”
The government likewise chose to build the line with overpass structures, which is notably cheaper, but much less safe than an underground system, in an effort to slash the project’s budget, prioritizing saving money over the safety of its citizens.
The New York Times discovered the metro was only certified by the proper authorities within an hour of its official inauguration, finding the city “authorized poor quality work” and allowed its public opening, despite thousands of unfinished pieces of work in the Line 12 infrastructure.
The line was shut down as a result for part of 2014 to apparently address these issues, though as we know now, was not adequately fixed, leaving the lives of the quarter of a million Mexicans who took the line every day in danger.
“The outcry over the problems was so intense that Mr. Ebrard eventually moved out of the country for 14 months, leaving behind what he called a ‘political witch hunt,’” read the report.
“This line was born with cancer,” Jorge Gaviño, the metro director during the earthquake in 2017, told the New York Times.
An unreleased document from a Mexico City government audit of the affected area, created following the September 2017 earthquake, found a multitude of errors from the route’s original construction, including missing steel aspects and badly poured concrete, suggesting the government’s knowledge of the line’s faults for years ahead of the devastating collapse.
The audit likewise found the portion of the line built by Slim’s Grupo Carso, particularly that of the now-defunct overpass, had “‘structural faults,’ were missing steel components, and that some of the concrete was badly poured, an error that suggested ‘carelessness.’”
When asked for comment, representatives from Grupo Carso told the New York Times that while “leaving the ceramic rings around the studs was not ideal, it had not affected the structure,” a claim disputed by engineering experts.
Carso had been chosen to help build Line 12 in 2008, despite the company having no experience building train lines before, due to its access to Slim’s steel holdings and the billionaire’s deep pockets.
Soon after, “federal auditors discovered serious flaws. In a 2009 report, they documented ‘badly executed work’ performed ‘without quality controls,’ among other issues, noting that “‘there was inadequate communication’ between the groups supervising the project and the construction companies,” which Ebrard deflected as being “resolved” post-audit.
All of the gross negligence in the construction and government oversight of the project resulted in the horrific and avoidable collapse of the line on May 3, leaving 25 dead and dozens of families in mourning.
And now, the NYT pointed out, Grupo Carso and the Mexican federal government, in which Ebrard plays a high role, are working together to create the Tren Maya, another train project that is seemingly unplanned and built with little oversight, potentially setting Mexico up for yet another locomotive disaster.