MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s troubled tourist project Maya Train will now include a 72-kilometer stretch of elevated railroad track through the jungle, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday.
López Obrador has changed his mind a number of times about his pet project, which aims to transport tourists around the Yucatan Peninsula. The project would initially run on an elevated line across the coast road where most of the hotels are.
But opposition from hotel owners led him to alter the route, cutting a 70-mile (110 km) strip of jungle between the resort towns of Cancun and Tulum.
That has been opposed by environmentalists who say the train will crush or contaminate the network of caves and lakes around the resort towns of Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
And engineers feared the fragile, cave-infested limestone bedrock would collapse under the weight of the high-speed train. But the president now says that two-thirds of the line will not touch the ground.
Instead, it will be raised on thousands of 80-foot (25-meter) piles sunk into the stony ground, supporting prefabricated raised sections eight feet above the ground.
“This will have minimal effect because where they sink the pilots is nothing,” López Obrador said.
Activists rejected the idea that the engineers could avoid caves when sinking the buttresses, or that the train will not have any impact, noting that millions of trees have already been felled for the project.
“They don’t have the technical ability to sink the columns where there are no caves because they (the caves) are everywhere,” said Jose ‘Pepe’ Urbina, a diver who has explored the caves for decades.
He said the construction polluted the normally crystalline water that flows through cave systems in the Yucatan, which has no surface rivers and is largely dependent on underground water.
“It’s stupid to build a train on this soil, to build a train in the middle of the jungle, to build a train that pollutes the water,” Urbina said.
The latest change also cast doubt on whether such an elevated course — which López Obrador says will feature an 80-meter suspension bridge over a particularly large cave — can be completed within a year, as the president has promised.
The 1,500-mile Mayan Train Line is intended to run in a rugged loop around the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting beach resorts and archaeological sites.
Some of the oldest human remains in North America have been discovered in the sinkhole caves known as “cenotes” on the country’s Caribbean coast, which were often dry and were visited by humans as far back as 13,000 years ago.