Zero-emission Mayan Train promised where tracks pass through Calakmul reserve

As voters enter final day of referendum, official addresses ecological concerns

An eco-friendly hydrogen-powered train will roll through the Calakmul ecological reserve. Photo: Courtesy
  • An eco-friendly hydrogen-powered train will roll through the Calakmul ecological reserve. Photo: Courtesy

Germany has rolled out the world’s first hydrogen-powered train, just in time for the Mayan Train project on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

The French-built trains are costlier but offer more eco-friendly technology, which would possible answer some environmental concerns surrounding the Mayan Train.

Two bright blue Coradia iLint trains, built by French TGV-maker Alstom, in September began running a 62 mile/100km route in northern Germany.

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Hydrogen trains are equipped with fuel cells that produce electricity through a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, a process that leaves steam and water as the only emissions. Excess energy is stored in ion lithium batteries on board the train. The technology is also quieter than a traditional train engine.

If voters this weekend approve the Mayan Train project, the incoming Mexican government promises that at least part of the route — through Calakmul reserve — will employ a hydrogen-powered train.

Rogelio Jiménez Pons, the incoming general director of the National Fund for Tourism Development (FONATUR), said he has traveled to Germany to see its emission-free technology up close.

Even traditional diesel trains are relatively clean, he said, being less polluting than a highway with cars, buses and trucks.

“It’s pure logic. There is a smaller environmental impact,” he said, adding yet another benefit to carry passengers by rail. “In a train, passengers come on and off in train stations, while in a highway, it is easier for people to damage the environment by stealing wood, spices, animals, and other things.”

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Officials estimate 3 million people would ride the train system in its first year.

“We are aiming to attract the same amount of tourists that are currently going to Tulum,” said Jiménez Pons.

The Mayan Train’s 932 miles of railroad will be divided into three routes: The Gulf Route coming out of Palenque, with stops in Tenosique, Chiapas, Escárcega, and Campeche, continuing north with stops in Maxcanu, Merida, Izamal, Valladolid, and Cancún, where the Caribbean Route will start, coming down to the Mayan Riviera, with stops in Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Bacalar. The Jungle Route will go from Bacalar to Xpujil and Calakmul, in Campeche, continuing towards the Gulf route in Escárcega, Tenosique and Palenque.

Initial construction will rehab existing railways that have already been authorized for use and represent 60 percent of the project’s entire railway line, which is why there will be no need to ask for new permits at this time.

“There is an ongoing program for the rehabilitation of the railway coming from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. That program has existed for years. The Mayan Train will simply take advantage of said rehabilitation. FONATUR, in cooperation with the Ministry of Communications and Transports, will retake this rehabilitation project, speed it up, and modify it so that the train transports both cargo and passengers,” he added.

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