185 minutes. That is what Miguel Ángel Revilla assures that it took him in 1961 to travel to Bilbao. “The first trip I made in my life was to go to study in Bilbao in 1961. It took me three hours and five minutes. Now it takes three hours and ten,” said the president of Cantabria in words collected by El Confidencial. Some statements that summarize the problem that Spain has with the train as a means of transport.
179 minutes. It is the shortest possible time in which the distance between Santander and Bilbao can be traveled by train. At the moment, the Renfe website offers three options if we want to make this journey. The options are not many and their times hardly differ: Two hours and 59 minutes for the “fastest” route. Three hours and five minutes in the afternoon option and three hours and fourteen minutes in the morning.
Miguel Ángel Revilla is wrong about something. The three hours to cover the journey from Santander to Bilbao is not something that has been taking place for 60 years. In 1953, a train that left Santander at 9:00 a.m. arrived in Bilbao at 12:01 p.m., on the so-called “fast train”. Nearly 70 years later, connections have improved by two minutes… at best.
Santander-Bilbao train schedules of March 16, 1953
a botch. The situation of the Cantabrian train has been on the table for years but it has been now, in 2023, when the political and media environment has become unbreathable. The reason? In its attempt to modernize the line, Renfe awarded the construction of 31 trains to Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) in 2020 to modernize the routes in Asturias and Cantabria. What no one contemplated is that, three years later, CAF would verify that the order had a major calculation error: the trains do not enter through some tunnels in Cantabria and Asturias.
Since then, the word “botch” is the one that has been repeated the most. Miguel Ángel Revilla has been one of the most critical of the Government and, evidently, of the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and the Urban Agenda. The Popular Party has also called for “urgent declarations” in Congress. From the Government and the ministry they have already announced “imminent cessations in Renfe and Adif”. And, at the same time, Vox also calls for the resignation of Miguel Ángel Revilla in Cantabria.
three more years. Despite the statements of one and the other, there is a reality on the table: the Cantabrians and Asturians will have to wait three more years to be able to enjoy their new trains. The problem was made public by El diario montañés, it has been known that Renfe, Adif and CAF have worked on different solutions.
Building a new train from scratch prevents compliance with the required measures in the tunnels in question. Intervening on the tunnels requires an effort in time and money greater than any other intervention. The idea of making an exception in the gauge regulations has also been discarded. The only solution: use the “comparative method”. That is, take the measurements of the trains that currently run on the tracks (and some are over 40 years old) and adapt the new transport to them.
As Renfe sources have assured La Nueva España, the problem is that newly built vehicles are required to have a greater free space between the walls and the convoy than the trains that currently run on the lines. “It is not that the commissioned trains would not have fit in the tunnels, that is exaggerating, but that they would not have met the minimum distance required to the vault,” they explained to the newspaper.
around with the width. The problems on the Santander-Bilbao line are by no means new. At the end of the 19th century, the first great media discussion took place. On the one hand, those who proposed a remodeling of the line to adapt it to the width of 1.67 meters (known as Iberian), unite Galicia with France and increase the flow of passengers and goods with higher capacity trains.
On the other side, those who preferred to maintain the “metric gauge” alleging the orographic difficulties of the Cantabrian Coast, assuring that the new trains would not achieve profitability. This was, finally, the definitive decision that has ended up leaving isolated the routes that have chosen to maintain this measure.
This has been one of the recurring headaches in our country. Neither the metric gauge nor the Iberian gauge are adapted to the one used as a reference in the rest of the world’s expressways, known as international gauge (although its name is not correct). A width of 1,435 meters that is used in newly created infrastructures.
an improper service. More than a century later, the line from Santander to Bilbao is 118.6 kilometers long, 77.9 km of which are not electrified and which admits a maximum speed of 80 km/h, which, however, is barely reached. in a quarter of the route. Some tracks through which trains circulate, on average, at 33.5 km/h.
In 2019, the media covered a trip that Miguel Ángel Revilla made to Bilbao. In those days, the president of Cantabria already used the tagline of his famous sixties journey to denounce the situation. But the future looked much kinder with “a 40-minute train tender.”
A sample. The Cantabrian and Asturian problem is only the tip of the iceberg of a larger problem. For decades, the rail service has been abandoned in Spain. An isochronous map published in August 2022 reflected the problem: the comparison between Spain and Germany or France is dramatic.
With Europe demanding a better train service, rescuing night trains (such as the one that will work between Barcelona and Amsterdam) or Portugal begging the Spanish Government that efforts not focus on the connection with Madrid, Empty Spain has been demanding decent trains for years. of Extremadurans, Castilians, Andalusians, Aragonese and Galicians.
Meanwhile, in 2023, Santander and Bilbao are still separated by three hours by train. As in 2019. As in 1961. As in 1953. They will be, at least, another three years. A route that, by car, is covered in an hour.
Photo | emilio del prado
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