Part of a series highlighting proposed routes from the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Update: The Mexico: Mexico City-Guadalajara route was named one of ten winners of the Challenge in September 2017.
Fernando Romero is one of Mexico’s leading young architects and a staunch national champion. His passion for building a better future for his country comes spilling out after only fifteen minutes in conversation. One phrase that came up the most during our meeting at his office on the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City was, “this is Mexico’s Moment.” For him, it’s a rallying cry for capturing opportunities now to advance Mexico's culture, commerce and quality of infrastructure.
Early in its term, the Peña Nieto administration demonstrated its commitment to upgrading the country’s infrastructure when it launched the 2014-2018 National Infrastructure Program, which is expected to marshal nearly $600 billion in public works investment. Public-private partnership activity is rising and, despite challenges, the Mexican economy remains resilient. The next couple of years could very well see the transformation of Mexico’s infrastructure fabric.
One of those transformative opportunities happens to come in the shape of a Hyperloop high-speed transportation system. Romero, a protégé of architect Rem Koolhaas and the lead designer of Mexico City’s New International Airport, is one of the creative minds behind the “Mexloop” proposal now making its way through judging in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Mexloop is a collaboration among representatives from Romero’s firm FR-EE and engineering firms Arup and Sener. Its proposed Hyperloop route would connect Mexico City to Guadalajara via Querétaro and León, linking a super-region that is expected to include more than 60 million people by 2050. Stations would be strategically located near airports, rail freight hubs, and metro and commuter rail stations to maximize the efficiency of existing transport infrastructure.
Proposed Hyperloop route would connect Mexico City to Guadalajara via Querétaro and León
Mexloop has attracted public-sector support from various tiers of the Mexican government, which prides itself on bridging East-West and North-South trade routes. A high-speed intercity link could alter the economic calculus of central Mexico: employers in Guadalajara could access jobseekers in León, and industry knowledge created in Mexico City could spill into firms across the four cities. Municipal governments, charged with governing a more connected region, could pursue coordinated infrastructure plans. Despite talk about closing borders, Mexico is and has always been an economic engine of the Americas.
Here’s a look at the route overall with descriptions of potential social and economic impact along the way.
Octavio Paz, Mexico City’s poet laureate, wrote about a metropolis that “in its circular fever repeats and repeats” as a way of describing one of the most snarled roadway networks in the world. In the central, historical heart called the distrito federal, or D.F. (pronounced “day-efay”), 9 million residents of 16 boroughs live in a 570-square-mile tangle of traffic. Chilangos, as residents of the city call themselves, spend 219 hours per year in traffic, thanks to a population that has grown sixfold since 1950. Millions of Chilangos rely daily on public transportation, and mobility within and outside Ciudad de México, or CDMX, remains a critical challenge. Although private cars represent only about a third of daily commutes, more than 80% of roads are occupied by commuters, resulting in gridlock that costs CDMX billions. And, pollution: Mexico City enjoyed acceptable air quality on only 26 days in 2016, the most recent year for which figures have been published.
Despite the congestion and pollution, CDMX, remains a vital economic hub. It’s the eighth richest city in the world (and first in Latin America), with booming tourism and a vibrant creative community. A visit to Central de Abasto, CDMX’s main wholesale market, gives you a sense of the vast amount of goods that pass through the city. A kaleidoscopic array of produce, meats, and packaged goods fill an area the size of an airport. The enormous complex in the eastern Iztapalapa area handles roughly 30% of the entire country’s food supply and attracts as many as half a million people per day. The new international airport, which is expected to handle up to 120 million passengers per year, and the new high-speed rail link to Toluca currently under construction will ignite greater pressure on the mobility grid in CDMX.
The Mexloop team proposes a passenger Hyperloop connection between the new airport and the densely populated western section of the city, and a cargo link from air freight terminals to Central de Abasto. The passenger link is expected to capture a significant portion of the tourist market that concentrates in nearby neighborhoods and ease the flow to and from the airport. The team hopes to integrate the Hyperloop system into existing and future transport hubs by locating the station near three current STC Metro Line stops, an intercity bus depot, and the future terminus of the Toluca-Mexico City HSR. From Mexico City’s new airport, the line runs about 200 km northwest to Querétaro City, the capital of the State of Querétaro.
Hyperloop station concept design from architectural firm FR-EE, for CDMX
A metro area of just over two million, Querétaro City is the nexus of Mexico's flourishing aerospace industry and home to companies such as Bombardier and GE. Querétaro has seen incredible growth in foreign direct investment in manufacturing. More than 1,400 multinational corporations now have a presence in the city, and its industrial clusters and economic zones have been lauded as examples of successful economic policies that attract high value-added production sectors. Less than a mile from Querétaro Intercontinental Airport is the Universidad Aeronáutica en Querétaro (UNAQ), with more than 1,300 students pursuing degrees in everything from metallography to aerodynamics. UNAQ works closely with the area’s multinationals to develop the university’s training curricula and workforce programs. To date, UNAQ has graduated nearly 6,500 aerospace technicians.
Competition in Mexico’s aerospace sector is fierce: Querétaro competes with clusters in Sonora, Chihuahua, and Baja California, all of which are closer to the U.S. A Hyperloop portal located near the city’s aerospace hub could secure Querétaro’s place in Mexico’s production value chain and drastically reduce transportation costs for the city’s manufacturing tenants moving goods to Mexico City. The consortium also points to the real estate development potential around the station, as Querétaro’s population is expected to continue growing.
León is the proposal’s smallest municipality, at 1.3 million people and is located about 175 kilometers west of Querétaro in the state of Guanajuato. The drivers of León’s economy are leather and footwear manufacturing, and, more recently, the automotive sector.
Despite the city’s topographic limits in the north and west, León has managed to curb the characteristic urban sprawl that plagues many Mexican cities. This, along with public bike system and investments in bus rapid transit lines has solidified León’s reputation as an eco-city.
Connecting León to Guadalajara in the west and Querétaro and CDMX in the east typifies the Hyperloop strategic application of linking smaller cities to more dominant urban areas. The economic and social potential of such a link includes wider and more integrated labor pools, and economic rebalancing. A Hyperloop connection would induce greater travel to and from León and deepen economic linkages to Guadalajara and the rest of the Bajio region.
The proposed Hyperloop corridor terminates in Jalisco’s capital, the second most-populated metropolitan area in Mexico. Guadalajara has been crowned Mexico’s Silicon Valley, housing the likes of IBM, Oracle, and Intel and spurring a technology and a startup footprint that challenges CDMX’s economic hegemony. The Guadalajara metro area includes the surrounding municipalities of Zapopan, Tlaquepaque, and Tlajomulco de Zúñiga and serves as Mexico’s Pacific gateway.
Hyperloop station concept design from architectural firm FR-EE, for Guadalajara
For all its success, Mexico’s second city also faces critical transport issues such as severe congestion and rapid sprawl. Between 1980 and 2010 the area size of greater Guadalajara nearly quadrupled, resulting in greater reliance on private vehicles and unsustainable levels of carbon emissions. Hyperloop would redirect a significant portion of the estimated 1.5 million people that travel from Guadalajara to CDMX via motorized vehicles every year, freeing up Guadalajara’s roads. A Hyperloop portal connected to the city’s light rail and transit line could shift more travelers to environmentally friendlier options and strengthen the city’s transit-oriented development strategy. Linking Mexico’s two powerhouse urban economies would also result in transformative social and economic impact for the entire central region.
Hyperloop One meets with the Mexican Hyperloop Consortium
Read more about Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalist proposals