This is ‘La Bestia’ – or ‘The Beast’ – which is perhaps the most treacherous train in the world.
It is not built to carry passengers, but that doesn’t stop around 1,500 migrants piling on board the freight train’s roof.
They are trying to reach the Mexico-U.S. border to start a new life in America. Most are refugees fleeing endemic violence in Central America. But they face a terrifying journey ahead of them.
For years Mexico’s notorious drug gangs have been in control of the route, charging $100 (£64) or more for permission to mount the train.
Threats, attacks and extortion continue en route after it departs from Arriaga, in Mexico’s southern Chiapas state, around 160 miles north of the Guatemala border.
The attacks are a vital component of Mexico’s organised crime underworld, and constitute a criminal industry estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars per year.
The train terminates at the outskirts of Mexico City, 520 miles away. There, lying in wait, are more members of Mexico’s most powerful and violent criminal gangs.
Dirty, tired and hungry, the passengers then face a 12-mile journey to the shelter for undocumented migrants in Huehuetoca. The gangs take advantage of this.
The criminals make them pay a toll to walk to the shelter. If they don’t pay, they kidnap, beat them, ask for sexual favours. In the worst cases, they’ll be forced to work for the gangs or be killed.
Mexico has promised to stem the flow of Central American migrants to the United States by tightening control at its notoriously porous Guatemalan border.
But messages from the country’s top two leaders in little more than a week have provided few details on how. And the scene on the ground is business as usual.
Dozens of Central Americans who paid $1.50 a head could be seen this week crossing the broad Suchiate River on improvised rafts of inner tubes and wooden boards, in full view of Mexican police on the shore and immigration agents posted on a bridge overhead.
‘I don’t see anything has changed,’ Guatemalan Luisa Fuentes, 56, said as she rode a raft to Mexico.
‘La Bestia,’ a decrepit freight train that carries migrants north from the border state of Chiapas, still carried many riders on its roof.
President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government says it is catching and deporting far more Central Americans, but it remains unclear if enforcement has increased or just that the number of detentions is simply rising along with the larger numbers of Central Americans moving through Mexico.
In the U.S., the migration has overwhelmed the Border Patrol, shelters and immigration courts. Top officials, including the vice president, have traveled to Central America with a stern message for those contemplating the trip, and President Barack Obama is seeking $3.7 billion from Congress to respond to the crisis.