F Mar 2014

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec Railway, small but important

The Mexican rail network covers over 26,000 km: it belongs to the Mexican government which has franchised almost all of it to private rail companies. I say almost, because one important and unique exception is provided by the Ferrocarril del Istmo de Tehuantepec (the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Railway), measuring just 208 km, in the south of the country. It crossesMexico, from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, over the narrowest part of the country, in fact in the past the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was even considered an alternative link to thePanama Canal for traffic between the two Oceans. The reality as it stands is very different, but by no means less interesting. We spoke to Engineer Gustavo Baca Villanueva, General Manager of Ferrocarril del Istmo de Tehuantepec, whom we met in the company’s headquarters inMexico City.

Railway Engineering: The Mexican government has privatized and franchised the state railways to private rail operators in the hope of increasing efficiency and productivity. Ferrocarril del Istmo de Tehuantepec is the only rail network which is still state-run. Can you just explain the legislative framework in which the railway operates and the reasons behind this situation?Gustavo Baca Villanueva: When the National Congress met to franchise the railway network it determined that this decision would apply to all the lines except this one because it is considered a key line for the country. The reason given by Congress at that time was that the line has a strategic role because the Isthmus of Tehunantepec is considered a fundamental region for Mexico as a whole. Of course, there are also historical reasons…

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