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Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has decided to expand the route of the trans-peninsular rail line, also known as the Maya train, so that it reaches some areas in the states of Yucatán and Campeche.
The project is one of a handful of initiatives the veteran politician is proposing to develop once he takes office on December 1.
The decision was made at a meeting between AMLO and some members of his team on Monday, he told a press conference afterwards.
Based on the original proposal included in his government proposals, the passenger rail line was supposed to cover an 830km route from Cancún in Quintana Roo state to the Mayan archeological site of Palenque, south of the Yucatán peninsula in Chiapas state, crossing an area of Tabasco state.
Investment was estimated at 64.9bn pesos (US$3.4bn).
"[The decision for the route change] was made due to special circumstances. The rights-of-way over the former southeastern rail line, from Palenque to Valladolid, were not put up for concession, they still belong to the nation. This makes things much easier because having the rights-of-way allows us to launch works immediately," AMLO said.
As described by AMLO, the line would now cover 1,500km, running in a Y shape. It would start in Palenque, connecting the Campeche state localities of Candelaria, Escárcega, and Xpujil – near the access road to the Calakmul archeological site. From then, one branch of the line would head to the Caribbean coast, connecting Bacalar lagoon and the Mayan ruins of Tulum, ending at the famed beach resort of Cancún.
The other branch would run from Xpujil to Escárcega, also in Campeche and then to the state's namesake capital, continuing to Valladolid in Mérida state, and finally ending in state capital Mérida city.
The idea is to promote tourism and create jobs in the area, which is one of Mexico's most underdeveloped regions.
AMLO said that construction of the line would not require any land expropriations.
"We would have the rights-of-way of the former southeastern rail line from Palenque to Valladolid. As regards the Valladolid-Cancún and Cancún-Escárcega stretches, we will use the rights-of-way of power utility CFE's [lines] and the ones from the existing roads."
The project is expected to be completed in four years or less, according to the incoming president.
FUNDING & COSTS
AMLO said that the project will be financed with a mix of public and private funds, requiring investment of 120-150bn pesos.
The government funds will come from tourism taxes, which amount to approximately 7bn pesos a year, over the six-year presidential term.
As for the private investment, AMLO's team will immediately begin working on the project's preliminary design and the tender requirements to have them ready in three months, he said. According to the president-elect, the tender process could be launched from December 1, the date he takes office.
The project has reportedly sparked the interest of a handful of countries.
AMLO's foreign minister-designate Marcelo Ebrard said that a delegation of Canadian officials last month expressed interest in participating in the rail line, as did the Chinese ambassador to Mexico, who met with the president-elect a few days later.
In photo: AMLO explains the proposed changes to the rail project.