By MARK LORENZANA
Section 6 of the controversial Tren Maya, which will run from Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo to its capital city of Chetumal, will be the most destructive in environmental terms, and also the most expensive.
The Environmental Impact Statement (MIA) for the 255-kilometer Section 6 of the Tren Maya — one of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) pet megaprojects — detailed the need to eliminate 1,453 hectares of jungle to make way for the train tracks, and a planned investment is 70 billion pesos.
Quintana Roo’s Environmental Surveillance Committee, which supervises the drainage and drinking-water system in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, likewise warned that the contentious Section 5 of the Tren Maya could cause wastewater flooding and a shortage of drinking water.
Section 5 crosses the main drainage and drinking-water lines in both Cancun and Playa del Carmen, and would cause — due to the effect of vibration and type of soil — the pipes to fragment, interrupting the flow of water.
Construction of Section 5 is helmed by Mexico’s Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena), and has an extension of 49.8 kilometers between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Its layout has already been modified several times, the last time in January of this year.
For Section 6, the right of way requires clearing 1,309 hectares of medium-sized forest vegetation with a height of 15 to 30 meters, as well as 15 hectares of prickly pears and aquatic plants one to three meters high.
While Sedena is already in charge of Section 5 and Section 7 of the Tren Maya, the approval of the MIAs for Section 6 by Mexico’s Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) is still pending, except for Section 5 South, which was conditionally authorized.
The Tren Maya — as with the two other multibillion-peso projects by the López Obrador government, namely, the Dos Bocas refinery in the southeast Mexican state of Tabasco, and the Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA) in the State of Mexico (Edoméx) — has repeatedly exceeded its original budget.
In May 2019, the original projected budget for the Tren Maya, in a presentation by the National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (Fonatur), was 156 billion pesos with value-added tax (VAT) already included. However, a story published by Mexican daily newspaper El Universal in June 21 of this year detailed an expense report released by the Secretariat of Infrastructure, Communications and Transportation (SICT), which updated the cost of the Tren Maya to 230 billion pesos — not counting the 70 billion that will be spent for Section 6 of the train.
A report by El Universal pegged the total amount spent for López Obrador’s three pet projects so far — the Tren Maya, the Dos Bocas refinery and the AIFA — at 582 billion pesos, 167 billion more than the original combined estimate of 415 billion pesos for the three projects.