Mexico City’s neglected subway: a death trap for millions of daily users


Luis Rodríguez spends three hours on the subway most days traveling between his home on the northern edge of Mexico City and his university 25 miles south.

It’s a long commute for the 21-year-old student. His mother hates every minute of it.

Like the rest of the country, she’s watched as the aging subway system here has been crippled by deadly accidents, including a collapse in 2021 that killed 26 people and a collision this month that left an 18-year-old student dead.

“She tells me to be very safe, but the truth is, it’s out of our hands,” Rodríguez said as he steadied himself on a shuttering subway car on a recent morning. “It’s not up to me whether this line collapses. We’re all vulnerable here.”

The inauguration of the Mexico City Metro shortly after the 1968 Olympics was supposed to modernize this bustling mountain capital, bringing it on par with great world cities such as Paris and New York.

It promised too to be a great equalizer, giving the millions of workers living in informal settlements on the city’s periphery access to the thriving culture and economy at its center.

But after years of neglect, the Metro has instead become a stand-in for Mexico’s broader problems: entrenched inequality, unreliable public services and corruption so flagrant and pervasive that at times it actually kills.

These days, the Metro is also a political battlefield.

In addition to the deadly crashes, other alarming incidents in recent months include electrical failures, train cars spontaneously separating and a series of underground fires that have sickened dozens of riders. On Monday, 18 people were hospitalized after high-voltage cables overheated and choked a station with black smoke.

Opponents of Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum — a favorite to become the country’s next president — blame her for the breakdowns, saying her government has not properly maintained the system.

Sheinbaum, in turn, has blamed unnamed saboteurs for what she describes as an “atypical” uptick in system failures.

She is backed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a longtime political ally who granted her request to deploy more than 6,000 national guard troops to the Metro to ward against what he termed — without offering evidence — possible “premeditated” attacks.

Critics say the government should be sending engineers, not soldiers, to address the Metro’s problems. During a series of protests in recent days, activists scrawled graffiti linking the troop deployment to López Obrador’s broader militarization of the country and calling Sheinbaum an “assassin.”

As prosecutors investigate the recent incidents, one thing is clear: The crashes, political discord and now troops in fatigues at every train station have unnerved many of the 5 million mostly working-class people who rely on the Metro daily.

“None of us are comfortable,” said Armando, a 72-year-old textile vendor who declined to give his last name precisely because the Metro has become so politicized. “But we suffer it anyway because there is no other option.”

Source: OEM

The Mexico City Post