|Mexico City Metro overpass collapse|
|Date||3 May 2021 |
22:25 CDT (UTC-5)
|Location||Tezonco–Olivos elevated interstation|
Tláhuac Avenue, Tláhuac, Mexico City
|Operator||Mexico City Metro|
|Incident type||Railway collapse|
|Injured||70+ (65 hospitalized)|
On 3 May 2021, at 22:25 CDT (UTC−5), a girder supporting an overpass carrying Line 12 of the Mexico City Metro collapsed beneath a passing train in the borough of Tláhuac. The overpass and the last two cars of the train fell on Tláhuac Avenue near Olivos station. 26 people died and 79 others were hospitalized. As of 6 May, up to 5 people remained missing. It was the Metro's deadliest incident in almost 50 years.
Opened in 2012, Line 12 is the newest line in the system. Since its inauguration, the line has presented technical and structural problems, leading to a partial closure in 2014 and 2015 of the elevated sections, where the accident occurred. The 2017 Puebla earthquake further damaged the span, and although it was repaired within a few months, local residents reported that problems still existed years later.
The Mexico City Metro, operated by the Sistema de Transporte Colectivo (STC), is one of the busiest in the world, carrying around 4.5 million passengers a day. Beginning operations in 1969, it is the second-largest metro system in the Americas, after the New York City Subway system. Before the crash, the system had showed signs of deterioration with general concerns about its maintenance.
In March 2020, two trains collided at Tacubaya station after one driver did not follow protocols and the train's brakes failed. In January 2021, a fire in the Metro's downtown headquarters killed a police officer, hospitalized 30 people, and took six subway lines out of service for various days. In April, Line 4 was shut down after a track fire.
Line 12, also known as the Golden Line, runs from south-central Mexico City to the semi-rural southeastern borough of Tláhuac, serving roughly 350,000 passengers per day. It is the newest line on the Metro, and was built by Grupo ICA in association with Alstom Mexicana and Grupo Carso. Construction began in September 2008, and suffered multiple construction delays before the line was opened in October 2012 by President Felipe Calderón and the head of government of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard. The project's cost of Mex$26 billion (US$1.29 billion as of 2021) exceeded projections by about another half.
From the onset of service, Line 12 faced issues with trains on elevated sections, necessitating speeds as low as 5 km/h (3 mph) on some segments due to derailment concerns. The Atlalilco–Tláhuac section, including Olivos and Tezonco stations, was closed 17 months after the line's opening for a further 20 months to repair technical and structural faults.
A special commission was created to investigate the causes and to hold officials accountable for the errors that caused the closure. Independent consulting group SYSTRA was asked to submit a report on their investigation. After they reviewed over 2,900 documents and tested the tracks, the group concluded that errors were present during the "planning, design, construction and operation" of the line. In 2015, the Superior Audit Office of the Federation (Auditoría Superior de la Federación; ASF) determined that there were 12 irregularities during the construction process, including incompatibilities between the FE-10's train wheels and the rails, which could cause instabilities, and that the trains' operations were safe but at the acceptable limit. According to the STC general director, Florencia Serranía, French company TCO was contracted since 2016 to maintain the daily operating conditions of the line's fixed installations and that it did not report any affectations.
After the 2017 Puebla earthquake damaged the line's tracks, six stations, from Tezonco and Olivos to the eastern terminal, were temporarily closed. Tezonco and Olivos were reopened three days later, and Olivos served as the provisional terminal station for about a month while the other four stations were undergoing repairs. Residents had reported in 2017 that the section had visible structural cracks that could cause a future collapse. Transport authorities made repairs following these complaints. A column between Olivos and Nopalera stations that showed cracks in its base was repaired by the transport authority by January 2018. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, however, residents had informed the authorities that the stretch was steep and the girders were bent. By the end of 2019, engineering company Ingeniería, Servicios y Sistemas Aplicados conducted a study of the structural and geotechnical behavior of the overpass and the outcome did not represent any risk to the line's operation.
On 3 May 2021 at 22:25 CDT (UTC−5), an eastward-bound train was passing on the elevated section of track between Olivos and Tezonco stations in Tláhuac. Around 220 meters (720 ft) before reaching Olivos station, the section collapsed when a support beam holding the girders of the tracks failed, causing the last two train cars to fall. The fallen cars were suspended in a V-shape with one train car hitting the ground and the other left dangling. Debris fell onto an automobile traveling on Tláhuac Avenue, killing the driver and injuring his wife. The overpass was about 5 meters (16 ft) above ground level but was situated above a concrete median strip, which minimized casualties among motorists on the road.
Twenty-six people died and 79 others were hospitalized, of whom seven were initially described as in serious condition. As of 6 May, up to 5 people remained missing. It was the Metro's deadliest incident since 1975, when a collision between two trains killed 31 people.
After the collapse, witnesses began rescue efforts and were later joined by first response teams. Neighbors offered the rescuers café de olla, water, and bread. A shopping mall in the zone emptied their parking lot and let authorities set up a control post. After a few hours, rescue maneuvers were halted since the structure was unstable. A crane was dispatched to hoist sections of the train while search and rescue teams worked to find survivors. The first railcar was removed the next day at 09:20 CDT (UTC−5) and the second before 14:00 CDT (UTC−5) later that day.
STC warned residents to avoid the area. Service on the entirety of Line 12 was suspended and it will remain closed while a structural survey is undertaken. Line 12 sevice was replaced with 490 city buses, which were insufficient to meet passenger demand. The city government contracted buses from the company Autobuses de Oriente to complement the service. The government also added temporary routes toward Tasqueña and Universidad stations.
The federal government declared three days of national mourning. Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said that an international agency will conduct the investigation into the cause of the accident; the selected agency is Norwegian accredited registrar and classification society DNV. When director Serranía was asked about satellite images that showed the section was slightly warped, she said "There is no such information, it is not true". She declined to resign from her position. National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the ruling party of Mexico, voted against creating a special commission to investigate the collapse, adding that it is a "scavenger" proposal as the incident has no "urgent and obvious resolution".
The general secretary of the Mexican Union of Metro Workers announced that around 8,000 workers would go on strike due to inadequate working conditions for their safety. Users reported on social networks the structural damage of other elevated stations, including Oceanía, Consulado and Pantitlán. Sheinbaum said they will be examined accordingly.
The current and former heads of government of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum and Marcelo Ebrard, are both protégés of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and have been considered leading candidates of the MORENA party for the presidential election in 2024. However, their ambitions may be curtailed as a result of this incident, as the construction of Line 12 had been overseen by Ebrard and was considered his "signature infrastructure project", while Sheinbaum had over two years to address concerns regarding the line's condition and make sure that the line was properly maintained.
The following days, protesters who were upset over the collapse and response vandalized several stations, breaking glass platform partitions and daubing slogans such as "It wasn't an accident – It was negligence" on station walls. Demonstrators marched from Periférico Oriente station to the accident site with banners that read "It was not an accident, those responsible have first and last names" and "Corruption kills and the dead are always the people". Neighbors set up an altar in the nearby shopping mall.
Minutes after the incident, Sheinbaum went to the accident site. Ebrard said on Twitter "What happened today in the Metro is a terrible tragedy ... My sympathy to the victims and their families". The next morning, President López Obrador gave his condolences and said that "Nothing will be hidden, we should not fall into speculations ... no accusations will be made without evidence". Grupo Carso, the main constructor of the Periférico Oriente–Zapotitlán section, announced they will wait for the official expert analyses before offering any statement on the incident.
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