Cancun Airport-Maya Train Connection to commence July 2023

Planned route of Tren Maya in Mexico, which is expected to be in operation in early 2024.
Construction on Cancun Airport’s link to Maya Train is set to commence, which will connect the four terminals of Cancun Airport with Maya Train Station

Tren Maya (Maya Train) is a rail transport project first proposed by the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, when he was first elected in 2018. Its intended aim was always to boost economic development and tourism in the Yucatan Peninsula - consisting of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo states.

It is one of five projects from the Comprehensive Program for the Development of Strategic Projects in Cancun. The Maya Train has been celebrated for being an integral national development, as well as benefiting local communities, so it is important to consider the extent of its large-scale impact.

At what cost?

According to TIME, supporters like that the biodiesel-powered freight and passenger trains that will run the route will offer an environmentally-friendly alternative to road and air transport. In addition, tourists and cargo will be able to travel to previously inaccessible locations.

The project involves the construction of a train line approximately 1,500 kilometres in length that will connect both tourist destinations and major cities in the region. The trains will operate both for passenger and cargo/freight transport, and it is expected that this will stimulate regional economic growth, attract more tourism, and ultimately generate more jobs.

Key facts
  • US$105.6mn expected revenue by 2030
  • 8% more tourists in the area
  • 46% travel time reduction
  • 160km/h train speed
  • 948 mile (1525.66km) line

Yet, shortcomings to the development are leading plenty to not only oppose the construction, but also question the extent of the environmental impact. Scientists and environmentalists worry that the wilderness, ancient cave systems and archaeological sites beneath the jungle have the potential to be disrupted, thereby damaging ecosystems.

Previously, Mexico’s government had indicated that it would mitigate any deforestation or destruction that it may cause as a result of the construction work. While López Obrador initially promised that not “a single tree” would be felled, the government has now admitted that 3.4 million have been cut down so far.

There is concern that the environment will be damaged as a result.

The importance of developing Mexican infrastructure

Set to commence full operations at the start of 2024, train routes will also allow for more comfortable and effective mobility from Cancun International Airport to the hotel zone and city centre, resulting in lower costs that will benefit the local economy in addition to tourist development. 

The Mexican Secretariat has highlighted that this construction project has generated more than 10,000 direct jobs and over 41,000 indirect ones, and is expected to total 715,000 additional jobs by 2030. The hope is that this continues to provide social value and benefits the family economy of the inhabitants of the region.

According to Cancun Airport, 46 Mayan sites will be accessible, as well as 14 of Mexico’s “Magical Towns,” which are villages or towns noted for their cultural significance or beauty.

However, there is also a concern that indigenous communities would be irreversibly impacted by such a large-scale build. In March 2023, The Yucatan Times reported that the Sélvame del Tren collective, made up of organisations and communities affected by the Maya Train construction, spoke out against the “devastation” of ecosystems throughout the Yucatan peninsula as a result of the works.

The residents claimed that the construction was like an “ecocide” and demanded a halt to the work of sections of what they call the “misnamed Mayan Train.”

Nicolás Moreno from the Calakmul Popular Indigenous Council said, as reported by The Yucatan Times, “if we don’t have land, how do we live?

“Where there are indigenous peoples, nature exists, that is what we are defending. We are not against a party, my policy is life and the development of us as original peoples.”

Maya Train is widely viewed as a “social transportation project” that aims to create social equity and open the peninsula to plenty of development opportunities, allowing for Mexico to continue developing successfully. Yet, this type of modern connectivity would do well to be built with all of its people in mind.

The US$20bn project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

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