updated 8/15/2007 5:37:02 PM ET 2007-08-15T21:37:02

The closure of an American-run railroad in Mexico stranded thousands of U.S.-bound Central American migrants near the Guatemala border and many of them were deported Wednesday by immigration authorities.

Some camped along rail lines waiting for trains that will never come. Others tried to walk hundreds of miles to the next working rail line and some turned themselves in to Mexican authorities.

The government sent hundreds of federal police and soldiers Tuesday to clear out the migrants, who for decades have hopped freight cars on the Chiapas-Mayab railway. The company has run freight trains on two sets of tracks in southern Mexico — one that passes near Guatemala’s northern jungle, and another that goes from the Guatemalan border up the western coast.

In late July, the Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming Inc. withdrew from a 30-year concession to operate the Chiapas-Mayab line.

Company spokeswoman Jeanette Rosado said damage to railway tracks caused by a 2005 hurricane forced the pullout. She also said rail workers had been assaulted, and that train-hopping migrants delayed operations and cost the company money.

“It is not the same, pulling a normal train or pulling it with 300 people riding on top,” Rosado said.

Unfortunately, Central American migrants keep streaming into towns where they once climbed onto the trains. Thousands have been camping along rail lines, waiting for trains that will never come, said Guatemalan Consul Rogelio Mendez.

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute did not respond to requests for comment. Central American consulates said extra buses had been contracted to transport deportees from immigration detention centers to the border.

Increase in smuggling feared
Thousands more migrants were stuck at the town of Ariaga in neighboring Chiapas state, and Salvadoran Consul Nelson Cuellar said many had started walking toward a rail line in Coatzacoalcos, almost 300 miles away.

“That is a marathon walk” through countryside where the threat of being assaulted or robbed is constant, he said.

The railroad’s closure may lead more migrants to hire smugglers, who often transport them in trucks. Police recently found several trucks filled with people crammed into hidden compartments, often without adequate air or water.

Franciscan brother Juan Pablo Chavez Vargas, who runs a shelter for migrants in Tenosique, said smugglers and others who profit from the flow of migrants have encouraged them to keep coming.

“They are telling them, ’The train will come, just wait. The train will come,”’ Chavez Vargas said.

The government says it hopes the railway will be running again under another operator by mid-2008.

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