A horrific disaster on Mexico City’s metro railway system—with at least 24 people dead and dozens more seriously injured—was long in the making.
For more than a decade since it opened, people have predicted disaster on the extension of the system—Line 12 or the Golden Line.
Maintenance workers issued over a dozen warnings over the years—which were ignored—and people who lived under the elevated track complained of cracks.
After Monday’s collapse, it seems the worst of those fears have come true.
A train on the line plunged 50 feet after an overpass collapsed underneath it. To get to the dead and injured, emergency medical teams and rescue workers scrambled through twisted and burning metal to reach the carriages strewn at steep angles and enmeshed in power cables.
Most of those killed were found already dead at the site.
Meanwhile, hundreds of relatives gathered at the roadside hoping for news of loved ones that had not yet made it home.
“I’m looking for my son,” Marisol Tapia told reporters. “I can’t find him anywhere.”
Hours later, her 13-year-old son, Brandon, was still missing.
Local residents have been telling anyone who would listen about the cracks in the overhead structure that emerged after a powerful earthquake hit the city in September 2017.
“This could have been avoided,” said Homero Zavala, a rail workers union rep.
“If us workers were really listened to by this administration, a lot of problems would be avoided.” Instead, said Zavala, people who raised safety problems faced dismissal.
The huge engineering project cost billions of pounds to complete and was right from the beginning beset by questions of corruption and corner-cutting.
Politicians and bosses had their palms greased by contractors and engineers, while the most safety critical parts of the budget became a victim of the still-running era of austerity.
But since its opening in 2012, successive governments and city mayors wilfully ignored the evidence of danger in the hope that Line 12 would become someone else’s problem.
Line 12, which serves working class neighbourhoods in the south east of the city, was a showpiece for the then mayor Marcelo Ebrard. He is a leading politician allied to the moderate left wing PRD party.
He had rushed to complete it in the hope of enhancing his future career—and one of his future appointments was president of the United Nations Global Network on Safer Cities.
Ebrard is today Mexico’s foreign secretary.
In the first month after opening, there were 60 mechanical failures on trains or tracks. Drivers slowed their trains over elevated sections of the route because even the line’s managers feared derailments.
The authorities knew that Line 12 had developed even more problems after the earthquake. Engineers reported a “structural fault” in one of the supporting columns.
People living near the scene of the accident said contractors had fixed the column shortly after the earthquake.
But many expressed doubt about the quality of the work, after seeing how many shutdowns and maintenance issues the line had over the years.
Last month, another one of the city’s 12 lines had to shut down after a track fire. And in January a fire at the metro’s headquarters killed one person and sent a further 30 to hospital.
There have been so many train collisions since Line 12 opened that a German rail engineering firm was hired in 2017 to investigate, and to try and improve the signalling and track technology.
Huge political anger at the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Mexico City’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum is now growing. They are both busily trying to deflect attention by saying no one can be blamed until a “thorough investigation” is completed.
But Ebrard, their party chum, is clearly in the firing line.
Already metro workers are planning strikes until safety improvements they have long demanded are implemented.
But the strike may be only the beginning of Mexico City’s revenge on those that put them in so great a danger.