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In Mexico, a deadly train wreck that many saw coming


It has been dubbed the “Golden Line,” the shiny and expensive centerpiece of a Mexico City metro system long plagued by overcrowding, crime and fragmented service.

But the new $ 2 billion addition, launched with much fanfare in 2012 and officially known as the Line 12, quickly became infamous for what critics saw as shoddy design, safety shutdowns and shutdowns. allegations of corruption in its construction.

On Monday evening, line 12 was the site of the deadliest metro incident in nearly 50 years: a viaduct collapsed under the weight of an elevated passenger train and sent part of the train plunging towards the busy avenue below.

At least 24 people have been killed and 79 injured, city officials said on Tuesday, blaming “structural damage” from the sudden and catastrophic failure of the beams retaining the metro viaduct. Officials have promised a full investigation into why the structure collapsed as the train arrived at Olivos metro station.

For many burglars and residents of the working-class neighborhoods of southern Mexico City served by line 12, Monday’s accident was a foretold tragedy. Some say they have complained for years of structural cracks and other apparent irregularities.

“We knew it was coming,” said Juan Antonio Balderas Hernández, 58, a street vendor and resident of Tláhuac district. “Sooner or later it could only happen.”

A sense of collective grief and anger gripped much of the capital on Tuesday. Trending on social media and appearing in graffiti was the phrase, “It wasn’t an accident. It was neglect.” #NoFueAccidenteFueNegliencia

The injured are carried on a stretcher after the collapse of an elevated metro track in Mexico City. (Hector Vivas / Getty Images)

More than 8,000 metro workers said they were planning a strike to protest what they called the substandard conditions of the system. A date had not been set.

“A bridge as new as this must not fall,” Fernando Espino, secretary of the union representing metro workers, told Spanish daily El País.

Metro manager Florencia Serranía has said she will not accept requests to resign from the head of a system that transports more than 4 million people a day on working days.

A glimpse into the history of the troubled line suggests that several Mexican administrations have ignored warning signs of the potential for tragedy.

Authorities closed many of the elevated sections of Line 12 in 2014 due to safety concerns. A 2014 congressional investigation of Line 12 found major problems, including design flaws, poor quality materials and “poor, hasty and incomplete certification of line functionality and safety.”

The entire line was reopened more than a year and a half later after repairs. But questions remained about its safety – even as more than 220,000 commuters rode it every day.

The metro’s 2018-2030 master plan called for investing millions of dollars in the maintenance of line 12, warning of possible derailments if the government did not fix its problems. It is not known if the additional funds have already been allocated.

As National Guard troops combed through mutilated steel and chunks of concrete at the crash site on Tuesday and rescuers used a crane to try and stabilize a wagon precariously suspended from the viaduct, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised a full investigation.

“The Mexican people must know the whole truth – nothing will be hidden from them,” he said at his daily press conference.

In Mexico, a deadly train wreck that many saw coming

Rescuers carry an injured person on a stretcher after an overpass collapsed in Mexico City. (Pedro Pardo / AFP / Getty Images)

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum echoed her pledge, saying a Norwegian company would conduct an independent investigation. The Mexico City attorney general’s office said it had opened a homicide investigation into the incident.

The Mexican flag made up half of the staff in the capital’s central plaza as condolences poured in from around the world, including the White House.

Authorities were unable to provide a breakdown of how many dead and injured were on the stranded train and how many people were in the street below in vehicles hit by falling debris.

The inauguration of line 12 in October 2012 was a major event in the capital, notably with Marcelo Ebrard – then mayor of Mexico City, currently Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs – and Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico. Slim’s construction company was part of a multinational consortium that participated in the four-year construction of Line 12, which was completed 10 months past its target date.

The devastating earthquake in central Mexico in 2017 prompted residents and commuters to complain about cracks in the 12 line support columns. Officials said those issues had been addressed.

But, more recently, some residents said they saw signs the viaduct was weakening.

“We have all seen that steel [supports] were blazing, ”said Balderas, one of many neighborhood residents who rushed to the scene of the crash. “I noticed it over a month ago.”

Serranía, the head of the metro network, told reporters that reports of steel brackets warping before the crash was not true. But many passengers and neighborhood residents said they had little faith in the system.

“Crime is corruption, neglect, abuse of power and I would say homicide,” said Carlos Medina, 54, an Uber driver whose nephew, Alberto Medina Ortega, 33, was among the train passengers injured in the accident, suffering from multiple fractures.

“I’m just asking for justice and for those responsible to be punished,” said Medina, who was interviewed outside a hospital where her nephew was being treated.

Among the daily users of line 12 was Juan Luis Diaz Galindo, a 38-year-old driver. He was on his way home Monday after a long day at work when the viaduct collapsed around 10:22 p.m.

His wife, Juliana Torres, and the couple’s teenage son called his cell phone over and over after hearing about the crash. Nobody answered. He had died in the accident.

Everyone who used the train knew the line might be dangerous, his widow said.

“It was well known,” she said. “But unfortunately we rode it because of the economy and because it was convenient.”

Gregg Brandow, a professor of civil engineering at USC, said the suddenness of the viaduct’s collapse suggested it may have been caused by fractures in the steel girders, long horizontal girders that span the distance between the vertical supports. The roof of the beams is the concrete superstructure that holds the railway tracks. He said poor quality solder could have contributed to problems.

“If you have any weld faults, those can turn into a crack and that crack can just go through the steel and cause it to break,” said Brandow, who has viewed video of the incident but is not part of it. ‘no official investigation.

Such cracks are often visible during inspections, he said, but not always. “It often depends on your diligence in your research,” Brandow said.

Mexico City officials said recent inspections did not reveal any problems with the structure of Line 12.

Monday’s crash raised new questions about the role of former mayor Ebrard in building and funding Line 12. The foreign minister is seen as one of the main candidates in the 2024 presidential elections.

In a Twitter message, Ebrard called Monday’s collapse a “terrible tragedy,” sent his condolences to the families of the victims and said he was at investigators’ entire disposal.

Appearing alongside López Obrador at Tuesday’s press conference, Ebrard said: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

The crash could also have political repercussions for Sheinbaum, another potential presidential candidate.

Monday’s crash was the deadliest crash on Mexico City’s metro since a two-train collision on October 20, 1975, killing 31 people and injuring 70. It was the third fatal crash in the past 14 months .

In January, a fire in a subway substation left one dead and 29 injured and disrupted service for weeks. In March 2020, an accident at Tacubaya station killed one person and injured 41.

Special Envoy Liliana Nieto del Río contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.



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