June 18, 2019 / 8:30 PM / a month ago

Mexico plans cutbacks to president's flagship 'Mayan Train' project

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico will shorten the 1,525-km (948-mile) route for a proposed “Mayan Train” designed to link tourist hot spots and spur development on the Yucatan Peninsula, an official said on Tuesday, in a move aimed at saving about $287 million in costs.

The change is one of the first major cutbacks to one of the flagship projects put forward by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whose infrastructure plans have drawn skepticism from influential sections of the business community.

The reduction of 55 km (34 miles) of rail between the colonial town of Valladolid and the resort destination of Cancun would slash costs by about 5.5 billion pesos, said Alejandro Varela, legal director for the National Fund for Tourism Promotion (Fonatur), which is overseeing the project.

Varela said in an interview that each kilometer of track will cost roughly 100 million pesos, giving the redesigned project, at 1,470 km (913 miles), a cost of $7.7 billion. It was originally slated to cost between $6 billion and $8 billion.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office in December, has described the Mayan Train as a social project, saying it will boost local economies in part by connecting isolated regions that are less developed than the more industrialized north.

The train is also intended to promote tourism, whisking visitors to popular sites such as the white sandy beaches of Tulum and the famed Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.

Under the new design, Fonatur will run the train from Valladolid to Tulum and then shoot out to Cancun at the tip of the peninsula. The previous design called for running track straight from Valladolid to Cancun along an existing highway, before looping to Tulum.

“Going the route of the highway, it was too expensive,” Varela said, adding that it would have required constructing bridges.

Lopez Obrador has vowed to run a tight budget, but his plans to build a new oil refinery and replace a partially built airport near the capital, which he scrapped, with a smaller facility at a military base have proven particularly controversial.

Additional reporting by Hugh Bronstein; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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