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Firm Tapped to Investigate MX Metro Collapse

Monday, May 17, 2021

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In the events following the subway overpass collapse in Mexico City at the beginning of the month, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has recently announced that Norwegian risk management firm DNV has been tapped to lead an independent forensic investigation.

According to reports, the incident resulted in 26 fatalities and injured nearly 80 others.

What Happened

In what has become one of the city’s deadliest incidents in the history of its subway system, Sheinbaum reported that at 10:22 p.m. on May 3, one of the concrete beams stretching along Line 12 collapsed as a subway train passed over it.

The overpass measures roughly 5 meters (16 feet) above the road below; however, the passenger trains were reported to have run above a concrete median strip, potentially saving additional casualties and motorists below.

In response to the tragedy, hundreds of police officers, firefighters and rescuers were on scene to help those involved in the crash, as well as cordon large groups of friends and relatives of people believed to be on the train.

Throughout the night, a crane was issued to the scene to help stabilize the train cars amid concerns that they could collapse onto the road. This forced officials to temporarily halt rescue efforts.

By Tuesday morning, the search for survivors turned into a recovery operation, with four of the victims’ bodies still trapped in the wreckage, according to government officials.

Line 12 History

Having been inaugurated in 2012 after four years of construction by a consortium including Mexico’s Ingenieros Civiles Asociados and Carso Infraestructura y Construcción, and Alstom Transport of France, Line 12 has long been criticized. During its construction, the railway was plagued by delays and technical issues which were reported to have driven the cost of the project to $2 billion—approximately 50% above the original estimate.

Although the structure is reported to be one of the city’s newest metro tracks, just two years after its inauguration, Line 12 underwent an 18-month partial closure for track and structural repairs. The rehabilitation was brought on after a city investigation discovered a number of defective construction materials and questionable project supervision, which eventually lead to the criminal prosecution of several senior project officials.

Additional reports from the past indicated that the structural integrity of the overpass was damaged after an 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked the area in September 2017.

Multiple residents expressed concerns over the cracking in the concrete, however, El Universal newspaper reported that transport authorities carried out repairs following those concerns. Additional allegations regarding the structure’s poor design and construction were also voiced when Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard’s term as Mayor ended in 2012. Servicing the city from 2006 to 2012, Ebrard oversaw the construction of the subway’s Line 12.

Like many other tracks within the city, the Line 12 runs underground through more central areas of the city of 9 million, but then runs on elevated concrete structures on the city’s outskirts. The subway system is reported to be the second-largest in the Americas—next to New York City—handling more than 4 million passengers a day.

Previously, the Mexico City Metro experienced two other serious accidents since its inauguration almost a decade ago. The first occurred in 2015 when a train that did not stop on time crashed into another at the Oceania station, injuring 12. And last year, in March, a collision between two trains at the Tacubaya station left one passenger dead and injured 41 people.

In more recent reports on the collapse, however, consulting engineer and veteran of many Mexico City construction projects Rozbeh Moghaddam pointed out to Engineering News-Record that investigators should not overlook Mexico City’s notoriously complex subsurface conditions. Specifically, where the metro collapse occurred, Moghaddam reported that the area’s upper layer of soft, “virgin” clay can occasionally define even the most precise calculations.

“Building in that soil is a big challenge, and it’s impossible to predict how it will behave,” he stated.

With the soil in mind, combined with the structure’s history and previous seismic stress, Moghaddam concluded that the structure should have undergone special attention and more periodic inspection to better understand how the infrastructure was being affected, given that all the previous factors in mind could have created a lot of their own issues.

“If we have transparency and competent professionals involved, we will get some valuable lessons that could lead to new norms for building codes and infrastructure inspection in the city,” Moghaddam says. “That is my hope, anyway.”

Investigation Plans

Although an independent forensic investigation, Sheinbaum reports that DNV’s work will parallel federal and agency probes that are currently being carried out with engineering faculty from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“The promise that I am making to the Metro users, to the citizens, is to get to the bottom of this terrible incident,” Sheinbaum in a press conference on May 5.

The DNV was selected by Sheinbaum for its work on the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico for the U.S. Departments of Interior and Homeland Security and believes the firm will ensure the investigation is free of politics or other influences.

Details on the investigation’s scope and schedule were slated to be made public by May 10. A full investigation timeline has not been released, but is predicted to take months or even years before an official report is published.



Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Government; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Mass transit; Program/Project Management; Public Transit; Rail; Railcars; SA; South America; Transportation

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