UrbanRail.Net > America > Mexico City


(Thanks to Marco Monroy for this UrbanRail.Net contribution)

Part 1: The Origin

The idea of building a subway in Mexico City began in the 1950s, a time in which the capital city of Mexico had about 4 million inhabitants (today it approaches 21 million). Old tramways criss-crossed the city, traffic jams began to boost, and the bus system wasn't enough to fulfill all the commuter demands. It was time for a modern mass transit solution. It was until 1967 when the city government approved the construction of the first line. Officially, on June 17, 1967, the construction of the "Metro" began... The approval of its construction could be easily guessed: Mexico City would host the 1968 Olympic Games. However, the government focused in offering a mass transit option for people living in the eastern and western sections of the megacity. The first phase covered three lines: one having an east-west direction, another linking north and south, and a third one departing from the northwest heading to downtown, and then turning south, so it could cross the other two lines. This is what is called a "ring solution" in which 3 lines cross at three different points (rather than the "cross solution" in which two lines cross in one point).

Line 8 Station symbols

After two years, the first subway line was opened on September 4, 1969. This first section runs from Zaragoza in the east, to Chapultepec in the west. At this beginning, the system had only 16 stations and it was only 11.5 km long. People were really fascinated with this new form of transportation; even a well-known TV news presenter was marveled by the new "Metro": fast, clean and safe. In September 1970, Line 2 was opened from Tacuba in the northwest, to Tasqueña in the south, where the Xochimilco-Tlalpan light rail line ran to the southeastern parts of the city (later the Xochimilco light rail line would be entirely reformed, so it offered new stations and modern trains). Line 2 opened with 22 stations, and 18 km of track. In November 1970, the central section of Line 3, from Tlatelolco to Hospital General was opened, adding 7 stations and 5.5 km. to the network. At the same time, the extension of line 1 to Tacubaya was opened. Line 1 reached its western terminus Observatorio in 1972. So, at the end of this first stage, by 1975 Mexico City's subway had 40 km of track and 48 stations. It is important to notice that while digging into the soil of the ancient Aztec capital, many important discoveries were made. The most important was a little circular pyramid dedicated to the Aztec God of wind, Ehécatl. Instead of moving it out and placing it in a museum, it was a good idea to leave it in the place it was found. So, around this pyramid, the Pino Suárez station (lines 1 and 2) was built. As a tribute, the pyramid was chosen as the station's symbol. (See table of all opening dates)

Commemorative stamp 1969


Part 2: Expansion

For an ever-changing capital city like Mexico City, it was evident that 42 km of subway weren’t enough for an 11 million megalopolis. But after the first phase of the subway system was completed, there were not sufficient funds for builiding new routes, or adapting the trains for the system’s growing demands. At that time, the first subway accident occured: in 1975, two trains crashed at Viaducto station. The official reason: human failure; however, security systems weren’t well developed at that time. Further action was taken throughout the years; because of such actions, the Mexico City subway hasn’t had another train crash, making it one of the safest systems in the world.
In 1977, the Metro Master Plan (“Plan Maestro del Metro”), was presented. It projected a 15-line, 315 km system that could be finished by the year 2015. Many of the actual subway routes follow that original plan, however, some routes had to change their alignment, due to the geological conditions of the city (remember that Mexico City was built over a lake, and the aztec empire once stood on this site).
After sufficient funding was available (thanks to the late 1970’s oil boom), it was decided to extend line 3, north and south. In 4 stages, from 1978 to 1980, it was extended north to La Raza, and then to Indios Verdes, its definite northern terminus; to the south, from Centro Médico and then to Zapata. In 1983, line 3 reaches its definite terminus at Universidad.
But three lines weren’t enough for the city. Thus, at the beginning of 1980, construction began on line 4 and line 5. Line 4 was planned as a north-south route, running on a viaduct, serving the eastern part of the city. Line 5 should link the eastern suburbs of Mexico city, via the airport and the new northeast section of the Circuito Interior (inner ring road), to the Politechnic School in the northwest. In August 1981, the first section of line 4, from Martín Carrera to Candelaria was opened; the second section (Candelaria – Santa Anita) opened a year later. As of line 5, the first section (PantitlánConsulado) opened in December 1981; the extension to La Raza in July 1982, and two months later the section to Politécnico.

Another interesting discovery was made while building line 4. While digging the soil for building the foundations of Talismán station, the remains of a mammoth (dated 10,000 B.C.) were found. Today, these remains are shown permanently in Talismán station, and the mammoth was chosen as the station symbol.

The subway wasn’t stopping its permanent expansion: the first section of line 6 (an east-west route linking the northern parts of the city) was inaugurated in December 1983, and line 7 would open in 3 stages (from Tacuba to Barranca del Muerto) during 1984 and 1985. Line 7 is the deepest line of Mexico City’s subway: some stations stand at 35 m below street level (not so deep compared to some European systems). Finally, two more sections were opened in this expansion stage: an extension on line 1 between Zaragoza and Pantitlán (so this would be linked to line 5), and a two station extension of line 2, reaching its definite terminus Cuatro Caminos. Cuatro Caminos was the first station built outside the Distrito Federal (Mexico City’s “official” limit), trying to be a transportation gateway to the northern suburbs.

At the end of 1985, the subway had 105 stations, distribuited on a 110 km. long network... not bad for a 10-year period!


Part 3: New Routes to the Suburbs

In the next three years, more sections within the city limits were opened: the second section of line 6 (Instituto del Petróleo – Martín Carrera) in 1986; line 9 (a parallel route to avoid saturation of line 1) in 1987, and the north section of line 7 (Tacuba – El Rosario) in November 1988... but what about line 8? Yes, in 1989 there were 8 lines, numbered 1 to 7 and line 9. What happened to line 8?
Line 8 history is a case in which the original alignment had to be changed because of geological reasons. Originally it was planned to run from Indios Verdes station, via the city center (the “Zócalo”), and then heading east to Ejército Constitucionalista in the eastern limits. If such route were built, several buildings, dating from the 17th century would had been affected (even historical buildings like the Cathedral, and the Templo Mayor aztec ruins). On the other hand, the southeastern parts of the city, as well as the eastern suburbs wouldn’t benefit from a subway service...
The Master Plan had a serious problem: no route was projected to run beyond the Distrito Federal limits; therefore, the terminals would lay at the state limit, and other means of transportation should be used in the suburbs. For a city having 20 million inhabitants, 40 miles long and 25 miles wide, having a subway within some limits wasn’t admissible. Thus, the Plan was modified to include extended routes into the suburbs. The first of these routes was planned as a suburban line to the eastern suburbs, but it was decided to operate as a “light subway” line, running on steel wheels instead of rubber tyres. Line A, from Pantitlán to La Paz, was born.
Line A was inaugurated in August 1991. Distance between stations is the main distinctive feature of this line: an average distance of 1700m, compared to the 1100m of the “urban” lines. However, it proved to be a good transportation solution, considering that pollution in the area, as well as traffic jams had been getting worse.

Simultaneously, the alignment of line 8 was revised, and a new route was proposed. A first stage would run through the city center, but away from the historic area; then it would head east, then south through Iztacalco ward, and finally east to Iztapalapa ward. The solution was approved, and construction began in 1991. In August 1994, the longest subway section ever built (19 stations in 20 km) was opened, linking the southeastern neighborhoods to the city center.

Another densly-inhabited area lies in the northeastern part of the metropolitan area: the city of Ecatepec. So, after line 8 was completed, line B (originally line 10) went into construction stage. Because of financial problems, the first section was finished five years later, in December 1999, from Buenavista (Mexico City’s train station) to Villa de Aragón. Eventually the second section to Ciudad Azteca could be finished on 30 November 2000. (See new pictures!)

At that time, the subway network should have 11 lines, 175 stations, and 200 km of double track.

The Metro finally wants to fulfill its primary task of becoming the metropolitan area transportation backbone.


Part 4: The Future

Last spring the revision of the Master Plan was presented. It presents the future Metro network layout for the year 2020, which includes extensions to some of the lines, as well as new routes. One interesting feature is that 9 light rail lines, with a private right-of- way have been considered, to link the suburbs to the main subway lines. In 20 years, there will be 17 metro lines (13 urban and 4 suburban), and 10 light-rail lines. It is important to say that the potential of commuter rail hasn’t been considered, so there is an opportunity to link towns in a 100 km radius to the capital, creating a multimodal transportation hub.
Of course there are short term plans: in the next three years, there are plans to build 22 km of new routes.

It is expected that these extensions will increase the subway ridership by 1,000,000 persons per day. This way, the Mexico City subway tries to fulfill the demanding transportation needs of 22 million inhabitants, and become a reliable, safe and clean backbone of the biggest city of the world.

Detailed Metro Opening Dates can be found here.


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