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One dead, 57 wounded in third subway crash on Mexico City mayor’s watch

Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has been in office just over four years.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A collision of two subway trains in Mexico City on Saturday left one woman dead and 57 other passengers wounded. Now three of the four fatal accidents in the history of the Metro system have occurred during current Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum's term.

“Firstly, I want to express our solidarity and complete support for the people currently in the hospitals and, of course, all our support and solidarity for the family of Yaretzi,” Sheinbaum said in a press conference Saturday afternoon, referring to the 18-year-old university student who died in the crash. 

The accident occurred at 9:16 am in the north of the city when one train collided with another that had stopped on the tracks and lost power minutes before.

The first fatal subway crash of Sheinbaum’s administration took place on March 10, 2020, when a two-train collision at a station near Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park left one passenger dead and 41 wounded. 

The impact of those two crashes pale in comparison to the biggest tragedy on Sheinbaum’s watch: the collapse of a section of an elevated train on May 3, 2021, that killed 26 and wounded over 100 others. 

The only other fatal crash in the Mexico City Metro since its inauguration in 1969 took place on October 20, 1975, when a two-train collision left 31 people dead and 70 wounded. 

Sheinbaum was not in Mexico City at the time of Saturday’s crash. She was on her way to Morelia, Michoacán, to attend a political rally to tout the advances of her administration. Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla lent her a helicopter so that she could return as quickly as possible.

Sheinbaum is one of several Morena party 2024 presidential hopefuls who have been criticized for illegally campaigning ahead of the official campaign season.

She has also been criticized for her mismanagement of the Metro, which serves over 2 million riders a day. The budget for the system decreased by more than a quarter during the first three years of her administration, falling to just under $893 million USD in 2022 from nearly $1.2 billion in 2018. 

Despite a government press release from October touting the “historic investment” in the system, the 2023 budget was only upped to just over $1 billion. The portion of the city budget earmarked for advertising in 2023 is over $39 billion.

Accountability for the 28 deaths on Mexico City subway trains during Sheinbaum’s administration involves a “diversity of responsibilities,” according to José Roldán Xopa, a public administration research professor at the government-owned think tank CIDE. 

Still, even without a direct investigation into the allocation of the funds taken from the Metro’s budget, Roldán considers it “highly possible” that the reduced budget created the conditions that ultimately led to the three accidents. 

“If the budget is reduced, then this diminishes the necessary funds to address and decrease risk and to improve the service,” Roldán said in an interview. 

And if an investigation proves that Sheinbaum had diverted funds previously destined for the Metro to something like her presidential campaign, her political responsibility for the accidents could turn into criminal liability. 

“The mayor is responsible for sending to the Mexico City Congress the budget necessary for a well functioning subway system,” said Roldán. 

Sheinbaum’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Teo Benítez, lawyer for the surviving victims and family members of those who died in the Line 12 collapse — and now five of those from Saturday — did not shy away from attributing these accidents to the budget cuts “and to many other things.”

In October, as Sheinbaum and Metro director Guillermo Calderón proffered guarantees of increased efficiency and safety, local deputy for the National Action Party Federico Döring called them out for only equipping one of the city’s 12 Metro lines with new safety controls. He said Metro workers on other lines were resorting to using their cellphones to monitor and move trains.

“The tragedy continues, and it doesn’t take a prophet to point out what will happen,” Benítez said, condemning the high rate of impunity in Mexico and lamenting how long it will take victims to receive justice from such a system. 

“Meanwhile, the majority of the citizenry will have to continue traveling on the Metro, they don’t have a choice, taking on the risk and the anxiety, knowing that they at least have to avoid riding in the first or the last car,” he said. “Better to ride in the middle."

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