No coffee in Cuautitlán

Not long ago, they began commuter train service from downtown to the northern outskirts, a place called Cuautitlán Izcallí that is actually situated in Mexico State but considered part of the urban sprawl of Mexico City. Although it's a ride of only a little more than twenty miles, traffic tends to be so bad that it can easily take you two hours or more to get there or back in a car. I had only been to Cuautitlán once, a few years ago, and the ride home in a taxi was so excruciatingly slow it was heartbreaking.

The downtown port is what used to be the Buenavista train station, where people took long-distance passenger trains. It had been defunct for close to twenty years. Mexico still has a lot of cargo rail service but no longer takes passengers anywhere, except for the privately run trains that go to the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua and from Guadalajara to the tequila factories.

The new service has definitely been built for people who live in Mexico State but work in Mexico City. At the downtown station there are several machines like the one above, which buff your shoes free of charge.

The train is something of a phenomenon. I wonder how many like it there are in the developing world. It's sleek, comfortably functional (there are few seats, but lots of room for standees, and even compartments to store packages overhead). Above all it's fast (I made it through the seven stops to Cuautitlán in a half hour) and cheap (from one end of the line to the other, service costs a mere thirteen pesos).

Yet the message the vehicle conveys (comfort, function, speed, sleek design) has little to do with the riders it transports. Out of the windows you see the misery that is Mexico State, the extended shantytowns on the hills, the corrugated tin roofs, the cinder blocks, the plastic sheets in place of windows, the steam billowing from a factory smokestack.

I had hoped to have a coffee in Cuautitlán when I got out at the other end, but there wasn't any to be had. Just more tin-roof shacks, empty lots covered in weeds, the railroad tracks. I got back on the train and returned, once again reflecting on the vast differences between my life and those of so many others in the city.