Mexican government sends marines to take over private rail line | transport news

The administration of President López Obrador has promised to compensate the company for the use of the railway line.

The government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has deployed marines to the south of the country to occupy part of the railway run by a private conglomerate.

Officials called the move “temporary” and in the “public interest,” as the government works to update a rail-to-sea network on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a narrow region of land between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

This project, called the Inter-Oceanic Corridor, is intended to help Mexico grow its economy and compete with the Panama Canal, a primary channel for trade in the region.

However, Friday̵[ads1]7;s rail takeover caught transport company Grupo Mexico Transportes off guard, according to a statement it issued afterwards.

“The surprising and unusual takeover of the installations by the armed forces is being analyzed by Grupo Mexico Transportes, its investors and advisers,” the company said. Shares fell by more than four percent Friday afternoon.

The Mexican government has promised to compensate Grupo Mexico Transportes for the seizure, which involves about 120 km (75 miles) of rail, between Medias Aguas and the port city of Coatzacoalcos.

The company said trains continued to operate on the line “with the monitoring of the armed forces”. The military takeover took place at approximately 06:00 local time (12:00 GMT).

This is not the first time the López Obrador administration has been accused of seizing transport infrastructure for public use.

In March, the US-based company Vulcan Materials alleged that Mexican police and military members illegally docked at a port it operated in Punta Venado, along the Caribbean coast.

Once there, the soldiers are said to have facilitated the unloading of cement, crushed stone and other materials on behalf of the Mexican company Cemex – materials destined for the government’s Maya Train project on the Yucatán Peninsula.

The incident caused an outcry in the US, with Republican Senator Katie Britt of Alabama calling the move “illegal and unacceptable”. The US State Department, meanwhile, said it was “concerned about the fair treatment of our companies in Mexico.”

López Obrador has championed the Mayan Train project, a 1,500 km (950 mi) railway line designed to circle the Yucatán Peninsula, connecting many popular tourist spots.

But the project, estimated to cost $16 billion, has faced much opposition, including from indigenous, environmental and archaeological groups concerned about how it could affect fragile ecosystems and historic sites in the region.

On Thursday, Mexico’s Supreme Court dealt a blow to López Obrador when it ruled that the government did not have the right to direct the Maya train and other infrastructure projects on “national security” issues to facilitate construction.

The train project was briefly put on hold in 2022 after an injunction was issued for not submitting an environmental impact statement. López Obrador, whose term ends in September 2024, has been fighting to complete the rail line before leaving office.

In Thursday’s ruling, the Supreme Court – a body with which López Obrador has had an adversarial relationship – said the designation “national security” would violate public works transparency laws.

But López Obrador responded to the court’s decision later on Thursday by issuing an order in the Federation Official Gazette, where government rules and regulations are published, reinstating the designation “national security”.

The order would cover projects such as the Maya train as well as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec rail-to-sea network and several airports, shielding them from normal permitting processes.

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