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Riding the Tren Maya: A journey on Mexico’s controversial new railway line

  • Reporter Maxwell Radwin and videographer Caitlin Cooper set out to ride the Tren Maya from Cancún toward Palenque and back.
  • On their journey, they looked for evidence of deforestation, the relocation of local and Indigenous communities, and the pollution of water bodies — all part of multiple injunctions filed by communities and activist groups.
  • Conversations with passengers and locals revealed that much of the country is conflicted about the train, which might attract tourism despite the ecological damage.

Last December, the Mexican government opened part of its ambitious Tren Maya project, a railway line connecting the tourist hubs of Cancún and Tulum with the rest of the Yucatán Peninsula. However, the project has proven controversial because construction has resulted in deforestation, the relocation of Indigenous communities, and the destruction of cave ecosystems.  

Mongabay reporter Maxwell Radwin decided to get on the train and experience it while searching for lasting environmental damage.

Is the Maya Train worth all its environmental damage?

He went down to Cancún during Holy Week, a peak travel period, and found the train station bustling with locals. Although the ride was smooth, signs of incomplete infrastructure lingered. And as the journey unfolded, it became evident that the Tren Maya was less a scenic excursion and more a functional transit option.

Conversations with activist Sara López shed light on the human and ecological costs of construction, from relocated communities to altered waterways. However, many people were still conflicted about the train, saying it could catalyze economic growth.

Following presidential and congressional elections on June 2, the future of the Tren Maya remains uncertain. Watch the video to learn more.

Banner image: Tren Maya. Image by Caitlin Cooper for Mongabay.

Related article: Read here the reporter’s detailed recount of the journey. 

Related audio: Hear the reporter discuss the Tren Maya project on Mongabay’s podcast, listen here.

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