Why a Train Carrying Hundreds of Migrants Derailed in Mexico

PHOTO: Men work next to a cargo train known as "the Beast," after it derailed near the town of Huimanguillo, southern Mexico, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013.Christian Palma/AP Photo
Men work next to a cargo train known as "the Beast," after it derailed near the town of Huimanguillo, southern Mexico, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. The cargo train, carrying at least 250 Central American hitchhiking migrants derailed in a remote region, killing at least five people.

Railroad robbery could have led to a tragic train derailment that killed five migrants and injured at least 18 in the Mexican state of Tabasco on Sunday.

The incident involved “La Bestia" ("The Beast"), a cargo train that each year is boarded, illegally, by thousands of Central American immigrants headed to the U.S.

Security officials in Tabasco suspect that a series of robberies of railroad track parts, as well as bad weather conditions, could have prompted La Bestia to tip over as it made its way north.

“What happened was that [heavy rains] made the ground less firm,” Tabasco’s Security Secretary told journalists on Sunday. “But the [train] failed, because the track was missing metal plaques. The train had 12 wagons, and eight of them tipped over.”

In recent months, officials in Tabasco have reported the robbery of railroad parts like metal plaques and iron nails that fix tracks to the ground. Thieves apparently have these railroad track pieces melted, and sold as scrap metal.

Another possible reason for this Sunday’s crash is that the train, which carried up to 250 immigrants according to local reports, could have been handling too much cargo.

“The train carried eight wagonloads of metals for recycling,” said Arturo Nuñez, the governor of Tabasco State. “One of our hypothesis is that there was an excess of weight, which made the tracks shake, and led to the train’s derailment.”

The cargo train nicknamed "La Bestia," begins its route in Tapachula [Point A] or Tenosique [B]. Sunday's crash ocurred near Huimanguillo [C]. La Bestia crosses the U.S. border at Nuevo Laredo. [D]

While officials search around for the direct causes of Sunday’s accident, critics are also blaming the fatalities in this crash on Mexico’s immigration policies.

Javier Solalinde, a priest based in southern Mexico who is also a well known human rights activist, said that if Mexico allowed Central American citizens to legally pass through the country as they make their way to the U.S. border, there would be no need for immigrants to hop on dangerous cargo trains like La Bestia.

“Why aren’t [immigrants] given a 180-day permit, so that they can take other routes. They could even take a plane [to the border] if the government gave them that opportunity,” Solalinde said in an interview with local newspaper Tabasco Hoy.

Immigrants from Central America, who have no authorization to travel within Mexico, hop on cargo trains because it is the cheapest way for them to make it to the U.S. border, and also because when they are on the train route, they are less likely to get detained by Mexican immigration officials.

Solalinde said that a law that would make it easier for Central Americans to reach Mexico’s northern border would upset the U.S. government. But he accused lawmakers in Mexico of being “obsessed” with “pleasing the U.S. and its security policies.”

“This [accident] is another example of the Mexican government’s abandonment of human beings who are on our national territory,” Solalinde said. “According to our constitution, the government has the obligation to ensure the physical integrity, of all the people who are on this land.”