The director general of the controversial Tren Maya (Mayan Train) project in Mexico has confirmed that the first section of the track will open on 15 December after three and a half years of construction work.

Connecting the city of Campeche to Cancun, the first section of the railway line will shortly be followed by a section between Cancun and Palenque, with the entire 1,525km track expected to be ready by February 2024.

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The start date had previously been mentioned by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who also acknowledged some of the challenges in finishing the infrastructure needed to complete the rest of the line but said that he believed the project would reach its February goal when looking at how the companies were working already.

First announced in 2018 and with construction starting in June 2020, the major infrastructure project will connect five states along the Yucatan Peninsula and is an attempt to both improve connectivity in the region and enhance the country’s tourism industry.

However, it has also been criticised by environmental and indigenous groups who have said that construction of the project has been devastating for parts of the rainforest it has cut through and damaging to indigenous land, with the Mexican government admitting that more than 3.4 million trees had been cut down despite the President promising that no tree would be felled.

The Guardian has previously reported a member of the regional indigenous and popular council describing the line as a “megaproject of death” and “ecocide”. 

A Mexican court previously suspended construction on the project on environmental grounds after agreeing with environmentalist groups that it had not complied with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation.