Environmental factors

Contractors ordered to stop work on £7.5bn Mexico railway due to cave in concerns

A judge has ordered contractors working on the Cancún to Tulum section of Mexico’s Mayan Train project to halt work, after it emerged that mandatory environmental impact assessments have not been carried out and ancient caves are at risk of destruction.

The Mayan Train (“Tren Maya”) is a MX$195bn (£7.5bn) infrastructure project to create a brand new 1,525km railway through the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. The new line will link the south-eastern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Compeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo, and aims to boost development and employment in the underdeveloped area.

The project broke ground in June 2020, but has been mired in controversy regarding its environmental impacts since it was announced. The railway will run through Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the second largest expanse of tropical rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon. Campaigners have contested that environmental factors were glossed over in the preparation process in order to speed up the start of the work and please President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The environmental campaigners were particularly perplexed when Section 5 of the project, which runs between Cancún and Tulum, was rerouted without proper environmental impact assessments being carried out.

The contractors on this £680M, 120km section are México Compañía Constructora and Acciona Infraestructuras México, Acciona Construccion and México Proyectos y Desarrollos.

The campaigners said the new route would destroy caves on the country’s east coast that are millions of years old and are home to many unique species of fish, flora and fauna. The protesters joined forces with cavers and booked a day in court last month. They have now scored a victory with a ruling from Judge Adrian Novelo, who has temporarily halted work in Section 5 of the project.

In the ruling, Judge Novelo said that “a continuation of the works […] implies the cutting down of trees, the destruction of flora and native species, and the perforation of the ground” and that it would have “a high probability of a change in the ecosystem”.

This Friday, April 22, the court will deliver a further ruling on whether to suspend the works on Section 5 permanently.

The President is still expecting the Mayan Train project to be delivered by the end of 2023.

The judge’s ruling on the Mayan Train runs in opposition to similar recent cases in Europe, such as dredging for the Germany-Denmark Fehmarnbelt and tunneling through the Chilterns for HS2, which have both seen the courts rule against environmentalist concerns.

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