Controversial Project Set To Forge Ahead To Meet December 2023 Opening Date
Cancun and the Yucutan Peninsula’s Maya Train project will restart after the Government granted the development special dispensation. The construction of the railway line has been halted multiple times in recent months.
The Maya Train’s development has been an uphill battle in recent weeks as environmentalists and archeologists challenged the ethics of a stretch of construction between Cancun and Tulum. Mexican judges have slowed progress to a standstill after deciding that environmental protection processes were not being followed.
But now, the Mexican government, led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), has seemingly found a way to circumvent any blocks to the Maya Train. In an interesting turn of events, AMLO designated the railway’s construction a “national security project”, allowing work to resume. The designation allows the government to prioritize the railway in the interests of the public, superseding any legal challenges on environmental grounds.
In a speech claiming that the challenges faced by the project are part of a larger “conspiracy led by corrupt individuals” to prevent the region from developing the new infrastructure, AMLO made it clear that construction would resume on the project, hopefully in time for the December 2023 opening date.
AMLO said, “These are public works, and we cannot accept that the interests of groups and factions be placed above the general interest, which corresponded to the neoliberalism era”.
Criticism of the project isn’t only stemming from inside Mexico. Environmentalists and historians across the world have been highly critical of the Maya Train. The bulk of the dissent centers around the destruction of valuable ecosystems and cultural sites.
The Yucatán peninsula is rich in Mayan ruins, many of which remain undiscovered and hidden by the rainforest. Historians and archeologists want more time to understand what kind of cultural heritage is at risk as construction destroys the jungle regions. Several unverified accounts suggest that construction has already destroyed several Mayan sites, while, again unverified, pictures of construction workers have surfaced showing them holding what appear to be Mayan artifacts.
On the environmental side, the peninsula is covered in underwater caverns. The collapsed caverns are what are called cenotes, a popular attraction for visitors to the area. Construction of the train places many of these caverns at risk, as well as the loss of habitat by tearing down trees in the rainforest.
A judge had sided with the environmentalists in June, arguing that environmental corners had been cut and a full review was required before the works were resumed. The new developments suggest that the environmental concerns do not need to be addressed or will not need to be as thorough as previously required.
The railways, if completed to the level suggested, will revolutionize travel in the region. Visitors to Cancun and Tulum will have easy access to hundreds of attractions dotted across the states of the Yucatan peninsula, including over forty Mayan ruin sites. It also opens up smaller towns with more history than Cancun to tourism, increasing the potential revenue for these overlooked towns.
There is no doubt that the train will provide immense value for tourists. It could help make a trip to the region truly unforgettable and fuses the world-class beaches with the equally impressive food and history in the area. It remains to be seen if the cost to the environment is worth it in the long run. One thing seems certain at this point; the railway line will be built, regardless of the roadblocks thrown in the way.
The Maya Train is set to open in December 2023. The Tulum Airport is also set to open a few months later after similar environmental concerns slowed progress in that project as well.
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