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One Month Later, People Seek Answers Behind Mexico City Metro Line Collapse

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In early May, a section of Mexico City's newest metro line, Line 12, collapsed, killing 26 people and injuring dozens more. But what caused this horrific collapse, and who should be held accountable? We're joined now by Natalie Kitroeff. She's one of a team of New York Times journalists who set out to answer those questions. Welcome.

NATALIE KITROEFF: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The investigation you and your colleagues produced points to serious construction flaws which led to the metro collapsing. This is a fairly new line - right? - just 9 years old. Tell us about what you learned.

KITROEFF: There appeared to have been a very basic failure with these bolt-like studs, which are really small but are actually crucial to the structure of the overpass that collapsed. The studs hold together steel beams and concrete that, you know, kept the tracks up. When those studs failed, the entire structure basically lost strength, is what engineers told us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your reporting also indicates that Marcelo Ebrard, the then-mayor of Mexico City and now Mexico's foreign minister, applied political pressure to open the line before it was ready.

KITROEFF: What we know about the construction of this line is that it was supposed to be done well before Mr. Ebrard, who was then the mayor of Mexico City, left office. It was a huge legacy project, and he wanted it done. We know from having talked to engineers that worked on the line and others who were involved in its construction that it was a frenzied process. It began before a master plan was finished. And that appears to have contributed to some of the decisions that were made throughout the project.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, Ebrard is considered one of the strongest potential presidential candidates for Mexico's next elections in 2024. Has he responded to your investigation?

KITROEFF: Oh, yes. He has, and he responded to our questions beforehand. He does not believe that there was a hurry or that any kind of - sort of emphasis on speed played any part.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The government of Mexico City ordered an independent report of the collapse, and the preliminary results of that report back up the sort of key points in your piece. It came out a little bit after your investigation. Is there any indication that there will be some accountability for the disaster?

KITROEFF: Everybody here is talking about accountability. We have yet to see exactly what that looks like. But Ebrard did respond to the preliminary report, which, as you said, confirms that there were a lot of problems with these studs. And Ebrard has said in a statement that determining the cause of the crash should require not just a technical investigation, but, he said, an inquiry that's reviewing the entire decision-making process. He's been really open to this from the beginning and has said publicly, you know, that he doesn't want any stone left unturned.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to bring in another player into this, which is Grupo Carso. That's the company that built the sort of flawed section of the line. It's owned by Mexico's richest man, Carlos Slim. Line 12 was its first major rail project, and the company is also involved in another massive rail project. That's the Maya Train. I mean, has there been a public discussion about how and why Carso came to get these contracts, and have they said anything about their culpability or not?

KITROEFF: The conversation has sort of just started to pick up around this. They have not been vocal following either our investigation or the official investigation as far as I know. What they said to us in response to our questions was that they didn't agree with the theory that the studs were involved or that the construction was flawed. But, you know, now the pressure has kind of ratcheted up on them because the official inquiry points specifically to errors made on the part of the line that they constructed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, because we don't want to lose sight of the human implications, what are the families of the victims asking for? How are they dealing with this?

KITROEFF: Well, we've been talking a lot with the mother of two young women who were involved in the crash. One of her daughters died. The other one is in the hospital gravely injured. She is, you know, to the extent that you can be sort of happy at least to feel that there's some sort of understanding of what happened that night, she's happy that there is more clarity on that. But obviously, the pain just doesn't go away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Natalie Kitroeff, correspondent with The New York Times covering Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Thank you very much.

KITROEFF: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.