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Politics

Mexico City Metro Collapse Kills 24 After Neighbors’ Warnings

Updated on
  • Twenty-four dead, 79 reported hurt as train falls to street
  • Metro line was suspended in 2014 over safety concerns
Train cars lay at an angle after a raised subway track collapsed in Mexico City.
Train cars lay at an angle after a raised subway track collapsed in Mexico City. Photographer: Marco Ugarte/AP

The collapse of a long-troubled Mexico City metro track killed 24 people and put two of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s top allies in the line of fire Monday night, after a decade of safety concerns and probes surrounding the project.

About 79 people were injured, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said Tuesday. A broken beam led to the incident on the Golden Line of the metro system, she said. An international agency and the attorney general’s office will investigate.

The newest train line in Mexico City, the Golden Line first opened in 2012 but most of the stations were later shuttered for nearly two years amid structural problems and an internal probe into alleged irregularities. Neighbors of the elevated rail line had reported construction damage after a massive 2017 earthquake shook the capital, and some said they continued to see warning signs.

“It’s reprehensible, because people have been saying for a long time that it was going to fall and it was not made well,” said Lourdes Urbina, 59, a resident who lives nearby. “These are people out there looking for their daily bread, and all of a sudden their families didn’t come home.”

The tragedy puts the spotlight on Mayor Sheinbaum and Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard, two key allies of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who are both seen as early front-runners to be Mexico’s next president. Lopez Obrador said at the Tuesday briefing that his government would “hide nothing” from the public about the accident.

relates to Mexico City Metro Collapse Kills 24 After Neighbors’ Warnings

Train cars lay at an angle after a raised subway track collapsed in Mexico City.

Photographer: Marco Ugarte/AP

“It’s a sign that they are very bad administrators of public works,” said Veronica Ortiz, a political analyst and associate at the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations. “It will harm both of them but it could very clearly be Ebrard’s political grave.“

Ebrard, who was Mexico City mayor when the line was built, promised to make himself available to authorities for whatever is needed. After failing to be picked for an electoral seat while the line was closed in 2015, Ebrard moved to live in France and the U.S. for three years. He later reportedly denied that he had exiled himself to avoid political reprisal.

“Causes must be investigated and responsibilities defined,” Ebrard tweeted about the accident. “I reiterate I am at the entire disposal of the authorities to contribute in whatever is necessary.”

‘A New Site’

Sheinbaum, who has been mayor for more than two years, said the city was going to inspect the entire Golden Line, on the southeast side of the city, which she said had been undergoing regular maintenance. She said the rest of the subway lines are safe, though she pointed out that as recently as January, the metro system had had another major problem, a fire in the main control room that stalled operations through mid-February.

The head of the metro workers’ union, Fernando Espino, said the fault lay with the construction. “Such a new site, just eight or nine years old, has no reason to suffer a situation like this,” he told Radio Formula.

In 2014, Mexico City officials closed most of the Golden Line’s service after determining that twisted rails and damaged ties were endangering passengers. The city banned some officials who headed the project from holding public office and some were fined for alleged irregularities in the planning, bidding, contract signing and execution of the project.

While the line underwent major repairs and later reopened, local media reported severe damages after the 2017 earthquake to a portion of the track one station away from the current collapsed beam. Mexico City says repairs have been done since then.

“We all knew there were problems,” said Miguel Constancio Navarro, a 30-year-old furniture maker who lives a block away from the fallen overpass. He saw sparks and dust while he was sitting outside as the train fell. “The people are paying for a mistake of the government’s engineers.”

France’s Alstom SA, one of the companies in the consortium that won the original $1.5 billion contract to build the line, promised to cooperate with investigations, while billionaire Carlos Slim’s Carso Infraestructura y Construccion SA said it would await the results of the probes before commenting further. A third member of the consortium, Empresas ICA SAB, said no one was available for comment.

The Mexico City metro is one of the largest in the world, carrying about 5 million commuters per day.

Images broadcast on Milenio TV showed how the overpass collapsed and the train toppled onto automobile traffic below, amid a cloud of dust. Ambulances rushed the injured to several hospitals across the city while hundreds of firefighters and civil defense personnel worked on trying to recover people under the rubble.

— With assistance by Michael O'Boyle

(Recasts headline, adds comments from neighbors, context on past problems)