But López Obrador also faces a huge logistical challenge in his rush to finish the train within a year. Millions of tons of ballast are needed to stabilize railway sleepers, but no suitable rock is available for hundreds of kilometers. Most of it has to be brought in from the Gulf Coast, about 900 kilometers away.
López Obrador said the crushed stone could be brought in by ship from Cuba in larger quantities, but said he was aware that this would lead to criticism.
“I’m going to say something so that our opponents question us,” said López Obrador. He pointed to a map of Cuba and said, “It is very likely that we will bring ballast from here for this piece.”
Even then, the ships with Cuban ballast would have to land in the port of Sisal, on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula, and be transported about 300 kilometers by truck to some train construction sites.
There is a private cargo dock on the Caribbean coast in Playa del Carmen – right on the proposed rail line – that could handle the Cuban shipments, but López Obrador can’t use that dock because he ordered that the US company that owns it should be closed.
“That (port) would be ideal, it is deep enough, but relations are not good” with the company, admitted López Obrador.
In May, the Environment Department closed the limestone quarry owned by Alabama Vulcan Materials, including the dock.
López Obrador wants the water-filled quarry to be used as a theme park to rival the nearby XCaret Park. He also wants Vulcan to dock a cruise ship at the cargo terminal. He has pressured the Alabama-based aggregates company to sell the property to the government or open a water park itself.
The water park idea is almost certainly a non-starter. The water-filled parts of the quarry look inviting, but are populated by crocodiles.
The 1,500-mile Mayan train line is designed to run in a rough loop around the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting beach resorts and archaeological sites.
López Obrador touts the train as a way to bring some of Cancun’s huge tourist revenues to inland communities that have not shared in the wealth. But there are no credible feasibility studies showing that tourists actually want to use the train.
In addition, without prior environmental studies, the president decided to cut down a layer of low jungle between the resorts of Cancun and Tulum.