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Mexico City Metro overpass collapse

Mexico City Metro overpass collapse

2021 railway accident in Mexico City

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 onto Tláhuac Avenue near Olivos station, killing 26 people and injuring 79 others. It was the Metro's deadliest accident in almost fifty years.

Announced in 2007, Line 12 was planned as an underground line with the possibility of operating with rubber-tired trains that had to be opened by 2010. Due to budget and time constraints, however, the project was modified to operate under- and overground with steel-wheeled trains. Empresas ICA in association with Alstom Mexicana and Grupo Carso, the last one owned by businessman Carlos Slim, were contracted for the construction. Since its inauguration in 2012, the line presented technical and structural problems that led to a partial closure of the elevated sections–where the accident occurred–between 2014 and 2015. A Mw7.1 earthquake in 2017 further damaged the span, and although it was repaired within a few months, local residents reported that problems still existed years later.

DNV, a Norwegian risk management firm, was hired to conduct an investigation to find out the causes of the collapse. Their preliminary investigations suggested that it was related to a deficient and questionable construction of the bridge. They further found that the lack of functional studs coupled with poor welds led to fatigue in the beam that collapsed. Although Carso was the company responsible for the construction of that section, the group denied any wrongdoing. Yet, Slim agreed with the government of Mexico to repair the section free of charge. The office of the city's Attorney General filed charges against ten former officials involved in the construction and supervision of the project.

Background

Metro system

The Sistema de Transporte Colectivo (STC) operates the Mexico City Metro,[3] one of the busiest in the world, carrying around 4.5 million passengers a day.[4][5] Commencing operations in 1969, it is the second-largest metro system in the Americas, after the New York City Subway system.[3]

Prior to the crash, the system had shown signs of deterioration, with general concerns being expressed about its maintenance.[6][7] In March 2020, two trains collided at Tacubaya station after one driver did not follow protocols and the train's brakes failed.[8] In January 2021, a fire in the Metro's downtown headquarters killed a police officer, hospitalized 30 people,[6][9] and took six subway lines out of service for several days.[10][11] In April, Line 4 was shut down after a fire on the tracks.[6][12]

Since December 2018, Florencia Serranía worked as the STC general director, who was assigned by the mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum. Serranía served in the same position from 2004 to 2006 during the governorship of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as head of government of the city—the president of Mexico when the collapse happened.[13] From 2020 to April 2021, the deputy director-general of maintenance remained unassigned and Serranía assigned herself as manager of the position.[14][15]

Line 12

A map showing the route and stations of Line 12
Line 12 map

Line 12, also known as the Golden Line from its color on the system map, runs from south-central Mexico City to the semi-rural southeastern borough of Tláhuac, serving roughly 350,000 passengers per day.[7] It is the newest line on the Metro,[6] Empresas ICA co-built it in association with Alstom Mexicana and Grupo Carso.[16] The head of government of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, announced it in August 2007,[17] and its construction began in September 2008.[18] The opening was expected to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence in 2010,[19][20] but it suffered multiple construction delays before its inauguration in October 2012 by Ebrard and president Felipe Calderón.[6][21][22] The project's cost of Mex$26 billion (US$1.29 billion as of 2021) exceeded projections by about fifty percent.[21][23]

Line 12 runs underground through the more central parts of the city and is elevated in the outlying areas.[24] Originally, the line was planned to be built mostly underground. It would have had 23 stations; 20 of them would have been underground—from Mixcoac to Nopalera—, and the last three—Zapotitlán, Tlaltenco and Tláhuac—were projected as at-grade stations.[25] Due to budget constraints, the project was modified to have nine underground stations—from Mixcoac to Atlalilco—, nine elevated stations—from Culhuacán to Zapotitlán—, and two at-grade stations—Tlaltenco and Tláhuac.[19] The elevated interstation sections were built with concrete columns that carry two parallel metal beams in order to support the girders; the foundations are built on rocky soil.[26]: 54 

Rolling stock

A steel-wheeled train leaves a station.
An FE-10 leaving Calle 11 station

The FE-10 model, by Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), is a train exclusively used on Line 12. The model uses steel wheels, which differentiates it from the other lines in the system (with the exception of Line A) as they use rubber tires. Francisco Bojórquez, the then-general director of the Metro system, recommended to use the second type of tires because he considered them to be a more secure option. However, an internal Labor Commission disagreed with his opinion and supported the steel ones as they were cheaper.[27] The line was designed in a similar way to Line A, taking into consideration the specifications of Bombardier trains, with a width of 2.50 meters (8 ft 2 in) and a weight of 170 metric tons (170 long tons; 190 short tons) per railcar. The FE-10 trains, nevertheless, have a width of 2.80 meters (9 ft 2 in) and a weight of 240 metric tons (240 long tons; 260 short tons) per car.[28][29] They have a capacity of 1,900 passengers and they are interconnected, allowing users to change from one car to another.[26]: 40 

CAF received a concession for the trains from 2010 to 2026 with a US$1.588 billion contract, becoming the first time that the STC did not buy the trains.[30] The agreed price must be paid regardless of whether the line is in operation or not.[31] SYSTRA, a multinational engineering and consulting group, informed that the operation of the trains was within the acceptable limits of safety.[32] Technischer Überwachungsverein, on the opposite, recommended to replace the trains due to the excessive wear of the wheels and rails caused by the mismatching between both.[33]

Issues

A picture of Line 12's overground track with a train passing by.
The Olivos–Tezonco viaduct in 2016. The accident occurred near the Vips and Walmart signs, which can be seen on the far left.

From the start of service, Line 12 faced problems with trains on its elevated sections. Prior to the start of pre-operational testing with trains, subsidence was reported on several columns.[29] During tests with trains without passengers, vibrations were recorded on the tracks in the Tláhuac borough area. Passenger testing began in June 2012 and in the subsequent months, around 10,000 ties were recorded damaged due to vibrations.[29] The operations necessitated speeds as low as 5 km/h (3 mph) on some segments due to derailment concerns.[6][21] In March 2014, during the governorship of Miguel Ángel Mancera, the Atlalilco–Tláhuac section—that includes Olivos and Tezonco stations—was closed 17 months after the line's opening for a further 20 months to repair technical and structural faults.[6][34] The city created a special commission to investigate the causes and to hold officials accountable for the errors that led to the closure,[35] including Ebrard, who went into exile in France in 2015, citing that he was part of a political vendetta created by Mancera.[36][37][38] In total, 33 officials and ex-officials were sanctioned with disqualifications from public work, fines, or both.[39]

SYSTRA was hired to independently submit a report on their investigation. After they reviewed over 2,900 documents and tested the tracks,[40] the group concluded that errors were present during the "planning, design, construction and operation" of the line.[41] In 2015, the Superior Auditor of the Federation (Auditoría Superior de la Federación; ASF) determined that there were twelve 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 were at the acceptable limit of safety.[42] According to Serranía, French company Tricaud Societé Organisé (TSO) was contracted in 2016 to maintain the daily operating conditions of the line's fixed installations and it did not report any concerns.[43] The total cost to address these problems totaled over Mex$1.2 billion.[44]

The 2017 Mw7.1 Puebla earthquake damaged the line's tracks and forced six stations, from Tezonco to the eastern terminal, to close temporarily.[24][45] Tezonco and Olivos were reopened three days later, with the latter serving as the provisional terminal station for about a month while the other four stations underwent repairs.[46][47] The ASF made observations of damage to the section which ultimately collapsed.[48] Residents had reported in 2017 that the section had visible structural cracks.[4][49] Transport authorities made repairs following these complaints.[4] They also repaired a column between Olivos and Nopalera stations that showed cracks in its base in January 2018.[50][51] Before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic residents had informed the authorities that the stretch was steep and the girders were bent.[52] By the end of 2019, engineering company Ingeniería, Servicios y Sistemas Aplicados conducted a study of the structural and geotechnical behavior of the overpass, finding no risk to the line's operation.[43]

Collapse

Multiple concrete columns and girders under construction.
Steel girders near Olivos station in 2010. Similar girders collapsed that night.

On 3 May 2021 at 22:25 CDT (UTC−5),[53] an eastward-bound train was passing on the elevated section of track between Olivos and Tezonco stations in Tláhuac.[54] Around 220 meters (720 ft) before reaching Olivos station,[55] the section between columns 12 and 13[56] collapsed when a beam supporting two girders failed, causing the last two train cars to fall off the track.[57][58] The fallen cars ended up suspended in a V-shape with one train car hitting the ground and the other left dangling.[21][59] Debris fell onto an automobile traveling on Tláhuac Avenue, killing the driver and injuring his wife.[60] The overpass was about 5 meters (16 ft) above ground level but was situated above a concrete median strip, which minimized casualties among motorists and pedestrians on the ground.[53]

As a result, 26 died (15 of whom died at the site)[61] and 79 others were hospitalized, of whom seven were initially described as in serious condition.[1][59] It was the Metro's deadliest incident since 1975, when a collision between two trains killed thirty-one passengers;[62] it was the system's third fatal accident in fourteen months.[57] After the collapse, approximately 22 people were reported as missing.[63] By 6 May, the number decreased to five people unaccounted for.[64] According to the government of the city, they were most likely not on board as they had been missing days before the accident.[65]

According to Rodrígo García, the train driver, meters before arriving at Olivos station, he perceived a jolt in the train and subsequently his control board indicated a power failure. García activated the emergency brake, got out of the cab and saw smoke and passengers leaving the train in the last car. The control center asked him to verify the situation and to reassure the passengers if necessary. He was subsequently notified of the collapse. In the fifth and last available car, García found injured and unconscious people. He estimated that the train was three-quarters full.[66]

STC warned residents to avoid the area.[67] Immediately, witnesses began rescue efforts[52][68] and were later joined by first response teams.[69][70] Neighbors offered the rescuers coffee, water, and bread.[71][72] A shopping mall in the zone emptied its parking lot and let authorities set up a control post.[73] Rescue maneuvers were stopped after a few hours as the structure was unstable.[74] A crane was dispatched to hoist sections of the train while search and rescue teams worked to find survivors.[75]

The first train car was removed the next day at 09:20 CDT (UTC−5) and the second before 14:00 CDT (UTC−5) later that day.[73] By the end of May, the debris had been removed.[76][77]

Immediate aftermath

One of the railcars is being lifted by a crane. Behind it, the second railcar still hanging. Below them, a car is seen below the debris.
A railcar being lifted the day after the accident

Service on the entirety of Line 12 was suspended and it has remained closed while a structural survey is undertaken.[78][79] Line 12 service was replaced with 490 city buses, which were insufficient to meet passenger demand. Thus, the city contracted buses from the company Autobuses de Oriente to complement the service.[80] Also they approved temporary routes toward Tasqueña, Universidad,[81] Atlalilco,[82] and Coyuya metro stations.[83]

The federal government declared three days of national mourning.[84] Government officials informed that the office of the federal Attorney General (FGR), its Mexico City counterpart (FGJCDMX), and Norwegian risk management firm DNV would conduct the investigations of the collapse.[85][86] Sheinbaum said the families of those killed would receive Mex$700,000 (US$35,000) each, including Mex$50,000 (US$2,500) from the city and Mex$650,000 (US$32,650) from the Metro.[85] The indemnity increased to Mex$1,870,000 per family later on.[87]

When Serranía was asked about satellite images that showed the section was slightly warped, she said: "There is no such information, it is not true".[43] She declined to resign from her position when asked about it.[62] 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 collapse had no "urgent and obvious resolution".[88]

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.[9][62] Users reported on social networks the structural damage of other elevated stations, including Oceanía, Consulado and Pantitlán. Sheinbaum said they would be examined accordingly.[89]

The current and former heads of government of Mexico City, Sheinbaum and Ebrard, are both protégés of president López Obrador, and have been considered leading candidates of the MORENA party for the presidential election in 2024.[90] 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.[9][23][90]

Reactions

Minutes after the collapse, Sheinbaum went to the accident site.[91] Ebrard—the Secretary of Foreign Affairs when the incident happened—said on Twitter, "What happened today in the Metro is a terrible tragedy ... My sympathy to the victims and their families".[92] The following morning, López Obrador—who was elected president in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform—gave his condolences and said: "Nothing will be hidden, we should not fall into speculations ... no accusations will be made without evidence".[57][93] Carlos Slim's Grupo Carso, the main constructor of the Periférico Oriente–Zapotitlán section, announced that they would wait for the official expert analyses before offering any statement on the incident.[94][95]

Protests

The following days, protesters who were upset over the collapse and responses vandalized several stations, breaking glass platform partitions and daubing slogans such as "It wasn't an accident – It was negligence" on station walls.[96][97] 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".[98] Local residents set up an altar in the nearby shopping mall.[99] On 7 May, hundreds of protesters held a vigil at the scene of the accident, demanding justice.[100]

Investigations

Four male investigators look at one of the collapsed girders.
Investigators of the Attorney General of the city on site

Multiple journalists from The New York Times published an investigation on 13 June 2021. They interviewed several engineers and witnesses and investigated multiple government records and documents. In their research, the team suggests that the collapse was due to a chain of errors originating in its planning. They stated that the line was built in a rushed manner as the end of the administration of Ebrard was approaching. They suggested that the installation of steel studs failed due to bad welds and that after the 2017 earthquake, audits revealed that there were errors of origin, qualified as "authorized poor quality work", including improperly poured concrete and lack of steel elements.[101] Sheinbaum criticized the article and denied having leaked information to a journal that denounces the Fourth Transformation—the president's political platform.[102] Ebrard said the collapse was not caused by structural faults, but due to the lack of maintenance.[103]

Three days later, DNV published their first expert's report. Preliminarily, the firm found structural faults linked to six construction deficiencies:[104]

  • A poor welding process of Nelson studs.
  • Porosity and lack of union in the stud–beam joint.
  • Lack of Nelson studs in the beams that span the bridge assembly.
  • Different types of concrete were used on the girder.
  • Unfinished and/or improperly executed welds.
  • Supervision and dimensional control in fillet welds.

DNV published four lines of research: "Was the design appropriate for the L12 system?", "Did the construction materials meet the design requirements?", "Did the construction performance meet design requirements?", and "Other possible contributing factors, such as: operation, repairs and rehabilitation".[104] According to El Financiero, the original first expert excluded at the "last minute" four additional lines of research: "lateral-torsional buckling of the steel beams", "crushing of the concrete slab", "influence of loads from the railroad system", and "lack of infrastructure maintenance".[105]

DNV reported that fewer studs were used than those required to support the structure and that the concrete that covered them might have been faulty.[106] The firm also found that supervisors issued an alert in August 2010 related to the construction of the Tezonco–Olivos overpass. It informed that only ten reinforcement bars were to be used in the bridge, although the project plans originally specified twenty of them.[107] DNV was expected to deliver their second expert report on 14 July, which was set to include the immediate cause of the accident, and by the end of August, their third and final report, which would include the root cause as well as recommendations for Line 12's reopening.[108][109] The group postponed their second report until 7 September 2021. In their 180-page investigation, DNV concluded that the collapse was caused by the lack of functional Nelson studs in the stretch, which lead to the buckling of north and south beams. This led the girders to work independently from each other in conditions for which they were not created, thus driving the distortion to the central transverse frame causing fatigue in the support. Bad distribution of the existing studs and poor welds in the zone further contributed to the collapse.[110][111]

For their investigation, the FGJCDMX found similar results to those of DNV. Their report indicates that the shear bolts that joined the slabs to the beams were misplaced and even in some cases the bolts and beams were not fused, leading to distortion-induced fatigue. The attorney concluded that the collapse occurred when the eastbound beam suddenly yielded and dragged the westbound beam in 1.9 seconds.[112][113]

The College of Civil Engineers of Mexico (Colegio de Ingenieros Civiles de México; CICM) conducted independent studies of Line 12, except for the collapsed area. They found that the bridge has two different types of girders: from Culhuacán to Calle 11 stations—built by ICA[114]—the section uses concrete girders, and from Periférico Oriente to Zapotitlán stations—built by Carso[94][114]—the overpass uses steel girders. They also found that sixty-eight percent of the elevated section has minor and common deficiencies, while the remaining thirty-two percent—all within the section between Periférico Oriente and Zapotitlán stations—presented vulnerabilities that require additional analyses. These include poor welds, improper spacing between beams, fissures in columns and beams, and irregularities in the support of the steel structure.[114][115]

Planned reopening

A week after the collapse, the STC started planning for the resumption of the line's operation.[116] In June 2021, Sheinbaum discussed with ICA and Carso the possibility of them giving money for the rehabilitation of the elevated section.[117] On 22 June, López Obrador met with Sheinbaum and Slim, and they agreed that Slim would help with the rehabilitation process, which López Obrador said should be carried out "as soon as possible",[118] and "that within a year at the latest, Line 12 will be back in operation with full safety".[119] A week later, López Obrador said that Carso agreed to rehabilitate the collapsed section free of charge,[120][121] and Slim commented: "I am convinced that [the line] was made with the best structural engineers of Mexico, who did the calculations, the design, and if you recall it, in October 2012, around November [...] the project was approved, which was performed by international experts, and for that, I am convinced that it has no inherent vices. So much so that the President of the Republic, the head of government and the head of government-elect boarded it, and they invited us and lots of people to travel, we traveled around 12 kilometers (7.5 mi)".[a]

In their report, the CICM recommended not to reopen the line unless a reinforcement and rehabilitation project is conducted.[123] The institute further advised to not reopen the underground section alone, because the railway workshops are needed for train maintenance and they are located after Tláhuac station.[124]

Outcome

After the release of the first DNV report, Grupo Carso lost 7.8 billion pesos on the Mexican Stock Exchange.[125] The company further lost 2.7 billion pesos after they announced they would rebuild the collapsed section.[126] Florencia Serranía was removed from her position on 28 June 2021 and was replaced by Guillermo Calderón, the Servicio de Transportes Eléctricos general director.[127] Days prior to the delivery of its second report, DNV filed a complaint with the FGJCDMX due to a breach in the chain of custody of a package containing evidence that was sent to the United States for further studies. When the package returned to Mexico, the box containing the samples had been violated, potentially affecting the investigation.[128]

The FGJCDMX began an investigation against eleven welders and two supervisors in August 2021.[129] The office announced in October 2021 that charges of manslaughter, injury and property damage will be brought against Enrique Horcasitas, project director of Line 12, and nine former officials and supervisors—several of them were disqualified in 2014 and 2015 from holding any public role in Mexico City for their participation in the planning and construction of the line.[130][131] Horcasitas' defense said that the errors occurred when the city preferred to make modifications to the original project, including the contracting of companies other than those stipulated and that it had not been properly maintained since its opening.[132] According to the attorney, who is also defending four others, the Spanish version of DNV's report omits information related to maintenance on the line.[133]

Carso estimated that the reconstruction and reinforcement of the line's bridge will cost the company Mex$800 million pesos.[134] In November 2021, the group revealed that in 2010 it subcontracted the stud welding company J. J. Jiménez, S. A. de C. V. and that Carso subsequently supervised the work through a verification system that evaluated the welding of the studs, their alignment, and their final position.[135]

Notes

  1. ^ Original text in Spanish: "... estoy convencido de que la hicieron los mejores calculistas de México, hicieron los cálculos, el diseño y si recordarán en octubre de 2012, por ahí de noviembre [...], se dio el visto bueno al proyecto, lo que se había hecho por expertos internacionales, lo cual estoy convencido que desde su origen no tiene vicios. Tan es así que se subió el presidente de la República, el jefe de Gobierno y el jefe de Gobierno electo y nos invitaron a muchas gentes a recorrer, recorrimos como 12 kilómetros."[122]

References

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  127. ^ "Se va Florencia Serranía: deja la dirección del Metro y Guillermo Calderón la sustituye" [Florencia Serranía leaves: She leaves the Metro directorship and Guillermo Calderón replaces her]. El Financiero (in Spanish). Mexico City. 28 June 2021. Archived from the original on 28 June 2021. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
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  130. ^ Fuentes, David (18 October 2021). "Por L12, buscan imputar homicidio culposo, daños y lesiones a Horcasitas y otros 9: abogado" [For L12, they seek to charge Horcasitas and 9 others with negligent homicide, damages and injuries: defense]. El Universal (in Spanish). Mexico City. Archived from the original on 18 October 2021. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
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  132. ^ "¿Quién es Enrique Horcasitas, director del proyecto Metro del 2006 al 2012?" [Who is Enrique Horcasitas, Metro project director from 2006 to 2012?]. SDP Noticias (in Spanish). Mexico City. 18 October 2021. Archived from the original on 18 October 2021. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
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  134. ^ "Carso destinará 800 millones de pesos a reparar la Línea 12" [Carso will destine 800 million pesos to repair Line 12]. Expansión (in Spanish). 26 October 2021. Archived from the original on 27 October 2021. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  135. ^ "Revelan que Carso subcontrató a empresa para fijar los pernos en la Línea 12 del Metro" [It is revealed that Carso subcontracted a company to install the studs on Metro Line 12.]. Aristegui Noticias (in Spanish). 3 November 2021. Archived from the original on 3 November 2021. Retrieved 3 November 2021.

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