MEXICO CITY – Mexico City’s elevated metro line that collapsed this week, killing 25 people, had been plagued by problems and poorly designed since the day it opened in 2012.
Passengers and authorities have come to fear that the screeching and bouncing of the wheels on the tight curves of the line will quickly wear out the tracks, raising fears of a derailment.
But few expected the thing to simply collapse.
However, a 2017 official investigation into damage from a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake showed indications of construction faults that should have shut down the line immediately, according to an experienced structural engineer.
José Antonio López Meza said the flaws detected in the metro system report – too weak a section of steel near the last crash – are the sort of thing that could have contributed to Monday’s collapse.
Instead, authorities opted for quick fixes, welding props under arched beams and reopening the service.
“Nothing is settled until a tragedy occurs”
“Here in Mexico, nothing is settled until a tragedy occurs,” said López Meza, who is also a seismic consultant who has worked on government projects. He said they are often not subject to the same on-site inspection standards as private builders.
But the authorities weren’t focusing on structural flaws. They have had their hands full over the past decade in simply trying to keep the subway train on its tracks, to avoid what could have been an even more nightmarish failure than Monday’s collapse involving two subway cars.
The $ 1.3 billion number 12 line, the last section of a vast metro system opened in 1969, was miserable from the start. The so-called Gold Line cost half as much as expected, suffered repeated construction delays and was plagued with allegations of design flaws, corruption and conflicts of interest.
A senior executive from one of the companies that built it was the brother of the man who oversaw the project for the government.
The scandal of the costly new line being forced to close in 2014 – just 17 months after its inauguration – essentially forced former Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard into political exile until he was rescued by his boss, the new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador – who helped appoint him mayor in 2006 and resuscitate him by appointing him secretary for external relations in 2018.
Despite the metro scandal, Ebrard was tasked with Mexico’s efforts to obtain coronavirus vaccines and was considered one of the top contenders for López Obrador’s succession in 2024. This was before Monday’s crash. Ebrard said he would cooperate with the investigations.
Reports from engineering companies have revealed that the city government of Ebrard made a series of surprisingly wrong choices when the metro line was designed and built between 2008 and 2012.
Experts said the unusually sharp curves in the route exacerbated design issues with the steel track, which looks more like the New York subway than the European-style rubber tires used on the rest of the system.
The Gold Line chatted. He hit. It shook. He screamed. The rails began to take on a wavy pattern. Drivers had to slow trains to as little as 3 mph (5 km / h) on some sections.
In 2014, the Gold Line had to be closed for months for the tracks to be replaced or remodeled.
As a result of investigations into design and bribery scandals, more than 38 government employees have been fined or otherwise punished for abusive subcontracting of work on the train, as well as charges criminal.
According to a 2014 congressional report: “If the rails are not protected and the shape of the wheels does not meet international standards, we have a potential risk of derailment.” The probe concluded that the line should have used rubber-wheeled suspension, rather than rail-style steel wheels, but by then it was too late to change.
But most reports had cleared the elevated platform of any structural issues until the 2017 earthquake revealed what the subway line was made of.