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Mexico Kids Raised in Boxcar Homes

April 27, 1998

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Maria Paula Delgadillo stands with pride next to a daughter and a grandchild on the wooden steps of her boxcar home on a Mexico City rail siding.

She has raised seven children in this 8- by 40-foot rail car, and sent three of them to college. Two others are secretaries, and the youngest two help run a tiny grocery store in the front room of the boxcar to help support the family.

``We had to sacrifice a little so that our children wouldn’t suffer the way we did,″ Delgadillo says of herself and her husband, a railway worker who repairs tracks.

For decades, railway employees have been allowed to live on rail rights-of-way in abandoned boxcars formerly used as rolling housing for work camps.

But it may be a dying way of life. The National Railway company recently announced it is moving about 700 families away from the tracks in the southern state of Veracruz, saying it will locate them to somewhere safer.

Inside, Delgadillo’s boxcar, split into three rooms, is neat as a pin. Like most of her almost 300 neighbors, she has lined the boxcar with wooden planks to insulate the car and make it more homey.

``You have to teach the children from the start not to play on the tracks,″ she says when asked about the disadvantages of living here.

Nearby, Jose Osorio Ramos, a 72-year-old railway retiree, sits in the sun resting a knee that was broken in a derailment 20 years ago. The knee hurts when it gets cold, ``and it gets cold in the winter in these boxcars,″ Osorio Ramos says.

He, too, raised a family in this and other boxcars around Mexico, when rails were still laid and nailed by hand.

``We never had much furniture, because the train would shake it to pieces when it moved,″ recalls his daughter, Maria Angelica, who has spent all but two of her 51 years living in boxcars. Railworkers and their families slept on bunks made of boards inside the cars.

Now, his boxcar settled into the dirt and never to move again, Osorio Ramos just wants to live peacefully on his monthly pension of 1,550 pesos ($180). But the Mexican government plans to sell off almost the entire rail network to private companies _ and possibly the siding where he lives.

``They should just give us the land here on the tracks, and let us build real houses,″ Osorio Ramos says. It would be his first home without wheels.

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