Controversial tourist train puts brakes on the Mexican Grand Prix

Gavin Haines
Is it the end of the line for the Mexican Grand Prix? - GETTY

So it’s out with gas-guzzling Formula One cars and in with zero-emission trains after the Mexican government announced it would pull funding for the country’s Grand Prix to bankroll a new tourist railway.

The mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, told local media this week that there would be no more federal funding for the Mexican Grand Prix beyond this year’s event in October, putting the future of the meeting in doubt.

The government pays a reported 400 million pesos (£16.2 million) annually to host the race, which is thought to bring in around 14.8 billion pesos (£599 million) in spending and media rights. However, from next year those funds will instead go towards a controversial infrastructure project known as the Mayan Train.

Pending approval the 932-mile railway will wind its way through five Mexican states – Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and the Yucatán – joining the dots between tourist sites such as Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Palenque, an old Mayan city.  

The government pays a reported £16.2 million annually to host the race Credit: GETTY

Conservationists have major concerns about the environmental impact of the railway, which is set to run through Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the second largest expanse of tropical forest in the Americas, after the Amazon. Estimates suggest a third of the railway will cut through wildlife-rich jungle, which would have to be cleared to make way for the tracks.

Mexico is home to an estimated 12 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, but its forests and mangroves are being cleared at an alarming rate. Conservationists claim the railway would exacerbate deforestation, heaping more pressure on species such as jaguars, which are classed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The railway, which will use hydrogen-powered trains, is also projected to cut across land belonging to indigenous communities. However, according to Mexican law, those communities will have to give prior and informed consent before the estimated-$8billion (£6.2bn) project can go ahead.

Conservationists fear the railway could impact wildlife, such as jaguars Credit: ISTOCK

Impact assessments and public consultations should also be carried out before the Mayan Train can move forward, though work appears to have already begun in places, justified on the grounds that such sections utilise existing railway lines.

A lack of public information about the Mayan Train has concerned many commentators, who are also suspicious at the speed at which the project has been pushed through.

Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, claims the railway will provide an economic boost to impoverished communities. He also used a recent referendum on the Mayan Train, in which 90 per cent of participants backed the project, to justify its construction. However, only 946,081 people took part in the poll, which represents just 0.73 per cent of Mexico’s 130 million citizens.