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Report: Mexico’s President to Require Private Freight Companies to Offer Passenger Service (UPDATED, 11/21)

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Image Courtesy of Wikipedia)

President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Image Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Nov. 8 that he will “require private rail companies that mostly carry freight to offer passenger service or else have the government schedule its own trains on their tracks,” according to an Associated Press (AP) report.

According to the report, López Obrador “denied any motion that his decree to be issued later this month amounted to expropriation of private property,” saying instead that “existing law guarantees passenger trains priority.”

Following a 1995 reform that gave concessions to Ferromex and a subsidiary of Kansas City Southern (now CPKC), almost no regular passenger service remains in Mexico besides a few tourist trains that run on “relatively short, unconnected routes to tourist attractions like northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon and the western tequila-producing region around Jalisco,” according to the AP report.

López Obrador, who is known for his “nostalgic love of trains” and for “state-owned companies in general,” announced in August the creation of a government airline to be run by the army. In May, the government sent in marines to seize one of Grupo Mexico’s southern rail lines on national security grounds,” according to the AP report. López Obrador said the company has since “reached an agreement to cede the tracks.”

According to the report, the “pet project” of López Obrador’s administration is the construction of the Maya Train (Tren Maya), a $20 billion, 950-mile line intended to run “in a rough loop around the Yucatán Peninsula, connecting beach resorts and archaeological sites.”

The railway companies, AP reports, “did not immediate respond to requests for comment on the president’s plan, in which the firms would be offered first chance to implement passenger trains.” If they refuse, AP reports, “the government will schedule its own trains on tracks that are currently used almost exclusively by freight trains.”

López Obrador, according to the report, did not mention whether the companies would be offered any government subsidy for passenger service.

According to the AP report, almost all passenger railway services in the world are subsidized to some extent with few making enough money to run on their own and many losing money.

López Obrador also said the railway network “would have to be electrified for passenger service; most freight trains have diesel or diesel-electric locomotives,” according to the report.

Moreover, AP reports, “issues of conflicting schedules, train speeds, stations and rolling stock are likely to arise if passenger and freight trains run on the same tracks.”

“In most parts of Mexico there are few inner-city train tracks or stations left. Mexico’s old government national railway company offered poor, slow service and lost huge amounts of money before the private concessionary operators took over the lines.

“Moreover, even freight service in Mexico has become problematic because of the safety risk posed by thousands of migrants who hop freight trains to ride to the U.S. border, according to the report.

In September, Ferromex, Mexico’s largest concessionary railway operator, temporarily halted service on some lines in the north of the country, citing about a “half-dozen regrettable cases of injuries or deaths” among migrants hopping freight cars in recent days, according to the AP report.

CPKC Responds

CPKC on Nov. 18 issued the following statement the draft decree concerning passenger rail service in Mexico issued by the Mexican Federal Government:

“CPKC is reviewing the draft decree and remains directly engaged with the Mexican Federal Government regarding potential passenger rail service on certain existing freight rail corridors.

“CPKC de México has previously reached an agreement with the Mexican Federal Government to perform a study of what is required for the proposed new passenger rail service on the right of way of the corridor between Mexico City and Querétaro.

“The draft decree, which is expected to become effective by November 20, 2023, also identifies the San Luis Potosí-Monterrey-Laredo corridor for the proposed passenger rail service. As required by our concession, CPKC de México will work closely with the Mexican Federal Government to evaluate passenger service on that corridor.

“The draft decree emphasizes that the public freight rail service will be respected and as such, we do not expect an adverse impact on our concession. CPKC has extensive experience hosting passenger rail services in multiple locations across its network in the United States and Canada while efficiently managing freight service.”

UPDATE, 11/21

Mexico’s government on Nov. 20 issued a decree that will “force freight railway lines to give preference to passenger train service over their normal freight runs,” according to a report by the Associated Press (AP).

According to the AP report, the degree gives the two main private concessionary rail operators until Jan. 15 to present proposals for offering passenger service themselves. If they decline, AP reports, the government will “put the army or the navy, which have no experience operating railways, in charge of the services.”

CPKC issued a statement over the weekend (see above). However, Ferromex has yet to provide a comment,.

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