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Transport and Communications

Mexico's economy relies heavily on the country's road network and maritime ports for the transportation of cargo. The extensive road system handles the bulk of domestic passenger and cargo surface transportation, while airports are struggling to keep up with the growth in international passenger travel. In recent years, the privatization of railroads and ports and the granting of toll road concessions have attracted substantial foreign investment and encouraged modernization of facilities.

Mexico has one of the most extensive road networks in Latin America, linking nearly all areas of the national territory. In 2005 the country had 235,670 kilometers of roads, 122,677 kilometers of which were paved. The network includes 6,336 kilometers of modern toll highways. Although extensive, much of Mexico's public road system is in poor condition as a result of insufficient investment in maintenance and an overreliance on heavy trucks to haul overland cargo. Roads handle 59 percent of total cargo transportation and 99 percent of domestic passenger journeys.

Railroads transport 10 percent of total cargo and play only a minor role in passenger travel. The rail system consists of 26,662 kilometers of track, nearly all of which is made up of 1.435-meter, standard-gauge line. The largest rail line historically has been the state-owned Mexican National Railways (Ferrocarriles Nacionales Mexicanos-FNM), which owns about 70 percent of total track. During the late 1990s, the FNM was broken up into regional rail lines and privatized. The newly privatized entities were granted 50-year leases to operate on the rail system's main routes. By 2004, 81 percent of total rail traffic was handled by private companies. Mexico City maintains a subway system comprising eight lines with 135 stations and a total route length of 158 kilometers.

The maritime port system has grown rapidly from about 75 ports in the mid-1990s to 108 ports in 2008 with the expansion of international trade. The system has experienced an influx of foreign capital as a result of the comprehensive privatization of port facilities begun during the 1990s. The largest ports, located on the Pacific coast, include Manzanillo, Lázaro Cárdenas, Salina Cruz, Guaymas, and Mazatlán. Important ports on the Gulf Coast include Veracruz, Tampico, and Coatzacoalcos. During 2007 Mexican ports handled 240 million tons of cargo (mostly petroleum and derivatives, followed by bulk mineral and agricultural products). Container ports moved about 2.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2006. Cruise ship passenger arrivals nearly tripled from 2.3 million in 1997 to 6.4 million in 2007, corresponding to 3,082 cruise ship arrivals in 2007.

Mexico's 2,900 kilometers of navigable rivers and coastal canals play only a minor role in the transportation system.

Mexico's civil aviation system is extensive and includes 227 airports-35 of which are international airports-and approximately 1,800 airfields and airstrips nationwide. During 2006 Mexican airports handled approximately 45.4 million passenger journeys, 29.0 million of which were conducted on domestic airlines and 16.4 million on international airlines. The busiest airports are Mexico City (Benito Juárez-MEX), Guadalajara (Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla-GDL), Monterrey (General Mariano Escobedo-MTY), and Cancún (CUN). Despite recent capital expenditures on terminals and runways, the largest airports are struggling to meet rising demand for air transportation services.

Since the 1990s, telecommunications services have been transformed by privatization of the national telephone company and the advent of wireless technologies. Following the privatization of Teléfonos de México (Telmex) and the opening of the sector to other private carriers in the 1990s, fixed-line density rose from 6.4 lines per 100 in 1990 to 18 lines per 100 in 2006. The latter figure corresponds to approximately 20 million fixed telephone lines in use. Availability of residential fixed-line service varies greatly by region; Mexico City and the more developed northern states experience much higher service densities than the eight poorest southern states. The continued high cost of fixed-line services, together with an incomplete build-out of the fixed-line network, has contributed to a proliferation of mobile telephone use. The number of mobile cellular telephone accounts rose from 14 million in 2000 to more than 57 million in 2006. That year, approximately 22 million Mexicans were classified as Internet users. Major telecommunications infrastructure includes 120 domestic satellite earth stations, 52 international stations, and an extensive microwave radio relay network.

Mexico is considered the media capital of Spanish-speaking Latin America. The country has approximately 300 daily newspapers, 1,300 radio stations, and 460 television stations, most under private ownership. Television is the most influential medium; a majority of stations are affiliated with either the Televisa or Tele Azteca national networks. The press is largely free; however, liberal defamation and libel laws have been widely cited as a constraint on press freedoms. Violence against journalists by drug smuggling gangs poses a growing threat to freedom of expression, especially in northern Mexico.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:00:56 ZULU