So Mexico City recently opened Line 12 of the metro. Built in five years at $145 million per mile, it is a miracle compared to the long-tragedy that is the Second Avenue subway. (New York, in its awesomely pathetic current incarnation, is going to take 10 goddamned years at $2.7 billion per mile.) The underground portions of the line were built by cut-and-cover, so the stations are easy to access, and according to Professor Andrés Calderón of the Universidad Iberoamericana, the tunnels did not cost much more than the elevated portions.
Until the damn thing broke down.
They had to close half the line and run trains crazy-slow over the rest.
So what happened? Well, the D.F. decided to build the line using conventional steel rails and steel wheels instead of the French-style rubber-wheeled trains used on most of the system. Still, it isn’t the first time that Mexico City built a steel-wheeled line: Lines A and B (so-lettered because they run across the border from the Distrito Federal into Mexico State) use steel wheels.
But Line 12 used new, bigger and heavier cars than Lines A and B. And those cars had trouble making curves tighter than a 350-meter radius. Of which there were a bunch on the elevated section. So that wrecked the rails and the railbed. In September, a consultant determined that most of the rails would need to be replaced ... and at least one section of the elevated portion of the line would have to be rebuilt. Worse yet, Prof. Calderón told me that rebuilding that section would mean that multiple private homes would need to be expropriated and demolished. The blame right now seems to be falling on the Spanish company that built the trains. The line won’t fully reopen until November 2015.
So, a disaster for Mexico.
Or is it?
- The line will open almost two years late and at a cost of $216 million per mile ... but still cheaper and faster than shorter lines in the U.S.
- After the fracaso become public, the D.F. hit 33 Metro officials hard with fines and other sanctions. Does that ever happen in the United States?
- The construction companies are now in court over how much they will have to pay. Victory is not assured; the dispute has hurt their stock badly.
- The disaster is not going to lead to the cancellation of the unbuilt portion of the line. The D.F. is going to pay for the new section to the Observatorio station. In fact, current Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera (of whom I am not generally a fan) wants to expand the Metro even further during his term. Would that happen in the United States?
- Finally, the politicians responsible are hurting as well. Former mayor Marcelo Ebrard is taking a hit in his popularity in the D.F. He will need to overcome the headwinds if he wants to win the presidency in 2018. Greater screw-ups often seem to have little political impact in America.
In short: an engineering disaster wrecked the rollout of a new transit line. But the disaster also wrecked the careers of the responsible bureaucrats and may wreck the finances of the responsible companies. Moreover, despite the overruns and delays, the D.F. will still get a line built cheaper and faster than anything in the United States.
So take away the opposite of the moral that you thought you were going to take away, pinche gringos! Mexico comes out looking pretty good in this story of woe.