RAILWAY TO HEAVEN MEXICO

Mexico 2018 | TRANSPORT & SECURITY | FOCUS: MEXICO CITY-TOLUCA TRAIN

A new interurban commuter railway, as part of broader strategic focus to augment transportation infrastructure, will both ease congestion and promote economic competitiveness.

The Mexico City-Toluca commuter train, originally expected to open in April 2018, considerably reshapes urban transportation in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. In 2014, CAF, a Spanish firm specialized in manufacturing rolling stock, was awarded the supply of 30 commuter trains for this project by the Ministry of Transport and Communication (SCT). The commuter service is the first of its type in Latin America in terms of safety for users, accessibility, and comfort with peak speed at around 160 km/h in some segments of the line.

The commuter train's route is 58km long and spans the Valley of Mexico Metropolitan Area (Mexico City and a fraction of the surrounding State of Mexico), considerably enlarging transit options for commuters. The train, more specifically, links the industrial city of Toluca, Santa Fe financial district, and the western part of Mexico City. For the first time, Santa Fe will be connected to a massive transit system merely a six-minute ride from the subway. This represents a milestone for the area and its 80,000 workers. Santa Fe hosts three university campuses, the headquarters of many national and international companies, and the largest shopping mall in Latin America.

The SCT expects 230,000 passengers per day and a significant drop in travel times. In fact, the Mexico City-Toluca journey will take less than 40 minutes, down from 90 minutes on average today. The value of this saved travel time is estimated at MXN4.4 billion (USD220 million) per year. In terms of environmental impact, at least 13,000 fewer cars will make this journey every day. The modal shift results in a CO2 emissions reduction of 27 tons per year.

The project will also renew some urban spaces adjacent to the railroad, especially in the last stretch, in the jurisdiction of Mexico City. SCT took into account both citizen and specialist input on how to upgrade the surrounding built environment. In particular, pedestrian accessibility to some of the intermediary stations, especially the central business district of Santa Fe, had to be included in the project through investment in sidewalks and public lighting.

Better yet, the commuter train is not the only megaproject aimed at unclogging Mexico City. Several highways are either under construction or have recently been inaugurated to improve the country's central region competitiveness. President Peña Nieto's administration targeted 52 new highways across the country, adding up to 3,200 km to the country's infrastructure network, with an investment of MXN184 billion (USD9.2 billion).

Improving road accessibility to Mexico City is a top-priority of this modernization plan. This is because Mexico's central region, made up by the states of Puebla, Morelos, Mexico, and Hidalgo is the country's industrial, financial, and demographic hub producing over 35% of GDP.

Consequently, this administration has invested MXN40 billion (USD2 billion) constructing new accesses to the capital, but also enlarging existing ones. For example, the Querétaro-Mexico City highway, the road with the highest demand in the country and critical to industrial logistics, was upgraded. It had not been renovated since it was built in 1958. The 185km-long road is now covered in hydraulic concrete, which increases its capacity and reduces travel times. Similarly, the road connecting Mexico City to its new airport to be inaugurated in 2020 will more than double its capacity, passing from four lanes to 10. The new airport will be located in the metropolitan area, just 14km away from the city center.

Improving the capital's connectivity with its metropolitan area, more generally with the central region, is critical to mitigating losses associated with congestion and raising the quality of life, an important indicator for any metropolis trying to attract global talent—ensuring that Mexico is going places, both literally and figuratively.