Mexico City Metro commuters fear train safety

MEXICO CITY, 8 Feb 2023:

Concerns about a lack of safety and even possible acts of sabotage have grown among some of the Mexico City Metro’s roughly 5 million daily users – amid a series of alarming incidents, including an accident one month ago that left a young woman dead and hundreds injured.

The episodes began on Jan 7 when the collision of two subway trains at a Line 3 station left an 18-year-old woman dead and 106 people injured.

Other worrying incidents have occurred since then, including two train cars becoming separated, another car catching fire and being consumed by smoke, stations having to be evacuated and frequent service interruptions.

The Mexico City government and the capital’s prosecutor’s office blame the incidents on acts of sabotage, while the opposition and unions say the problems stem from a lack of investment and maintenance.

No matter the cause, passengers interviewed at the downtown Insurgentes station say large crowds and delays are no longer their primary concerns.

“You enter the metro afraid, and you don’t know if you’re going to come out,” 27-year-old Eduardo Sanchez said.

Ipsan, a 75-year-old man who preferred not to provide his last name, said he was concerned an incident would occur along his daily route, that “there might be smoke in a tunnel” and he could suffocate.

But other people such as Adelaido Hernandez, 67, said he still trusts the Mexico City Metro, which is second in North America only to the New York City Subway in terms of annual ridership and system length. “I haven’t felt unsafe. It’s very efficient.”

Likewise, the coordinator of the Metropolitan Autonomous University’s Metropolitan Transport and Mobility Observatory, Bernardo Navarro, said in an interview that 30 years of data show the Metro is by far the city’s safest means of transportation.

“That said, I don’t want to diminish the incidents that have occurred, which were predictable and avoidable.”

After the Jan 7 accident, Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to prevent further “atypical” episodes.

“I don’t know if my imagination is getting the better of me, but I think it has to be sabotage. (Incidents like that) had never happened one after the other. It’s not normal,” Ipsan said.

But while Sheinbaum says more money has been invested in the Metro since she took office four years ago, critics say the system has deteriorated in recent years.

“The problems have been accumulating, and they don’t fix them. Time goes by, things break down even more and that leads to accidents. I can’t speak about sabotage because there’s no proof,” Sanchez said.

Navarro, for his part, said that while nearly 70 billion pesos (nearly US$3.7 billion) in new investment is required, the deployment of National Guard troops led to the discovery of the theft of infrastructure needed for the Metro’s efficient operation.

Mexico City’s Collective Transport System and Citizen Security Secretariat announced last week that 14km (8.7 miles) of underground cables were stolen in 2022 and attributed the theft to criminal organisations.

The metro was a symbol of modernity when it first arrived in Mexico City in 1969 – but 54 years later, the problems with that mass transit system are mounting.

“It was another world, the start of a change in urban (mass transit) service. And it was safe,” Alfonso Verdejo, a Metro user who was just 16 at the time, recalled.

The first and most deadly accident to date occurred just six years later, when 31 people died at the Viaducto station in 1975.

Incidents of varying degrees of severity occurred over the years until the next major tragedy in May 2021, when a portion of Line 12’s elevated railway collapsed near Olivos station, leaving 26 dead and nearly 100 others injured.

“We need to address the Metro’s urgent and not-so-urgent needs. That the basic takeaway from all of this,” Navarro said.