Plans for gleaming railway stations plaster the walls of the “map room” at Mexico’s National Fund for Tourism Development (Fonatur) — Grand Central for the “Maya Train.”
This is one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s signature projects to kick-start the economy of the poor southeast. The tourist, passenger and cargo railway around the Yucatán Peninsula would be 90 percent funded by the private sector, the president promised.
But after receiving insufficient interest from major infrastructure investors for proposed public-private partnerships, those plans have been ditched. Despite a cratering economy, the $7.4 billion project will now be 100 percent government-funded.
“Major infrastructure firms looked at it with significant question marks over whether revenues would be realizable,” says Edmundo Gamas, executive director of the Mexican Institute of Infrastructure Development. “It was definitely a vote of no confidence in the project and its financial viability.”
Grand public works projects that can crown a president’s six-year term have long been the norm in Mexico. But López Obrador is more ambitious than most. He plans to build an $8 billion refinery, a $4.2 billion airport and a $170 million Trans-Isthmus transport corridor, as well as 2,700 branches of a state development bank costing $530 million — all in addition to the Maya Train.
They could end up as white elephants.