They share more than 1,200 kilometers of border and yet, as far as rail communications are concerned, Spain and Portugal practically live backwards. With some honorable exceptions, the offer between the two countries requires passengers to resign themselves to facing tedious transfers that tip the scales on the side of the car. The timely “roller” of the pandemic has not helped either. In June 2022, the Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure and Housing, Pedro Nuno Santos, recognized it openly in June 2022: “It is incomprehensible that the two neighbors have such fragile railway connections.”
Both countries have been showing signs of wanting to change this panorama for some time. And the XXXIV Spanish-Portuguese Summit that has just been held in Lanzarote has served them to renew the message… and to slip, incidentally, a few ideas.
A commitment to the train between neighbors. Here is one of the ideas that both governments wanted to transfer as a finishing touch to the Iberian Summit, an appointment held this week in Lanzarote, with both governments going through a particularly sweet moment at the diplomatic level after showing their strength in Brussels.
“Spain and Portugal are giving a boost to rail transport between the two countries, in line with the European Union’s policy of placing the railway at the center of sustainable mobility”, celebrated Minister Raquel Sánchez. It is not the first time in recent months – a good reflection is the interview with Nuno Santos with El País – that the issue has been put on the Iberian table.
The Atlantic Corridor is essential to connect the Iberian Peninsula with the rest of Europe and reinforce the permeability of the borders.
I have conveyed this to João Galamba, the Portuguese minister, during the celebration of the XXXIV Hispano-Lusa bilateral summit in Lanzarote. pic.twitter.com/waCvisEnoS
– Raquel Sánchez (@raquelsjimenez) March 15, 2023
Of the declarations of intent… In detail, which is one of the signs for the optimism that both Executives have wanted to leave. Beyond the crossing of statements, Madrid and Lisbon have wanted to take stock of some of the steps that have already been taken. And above all of those that will be given. Among the latter, two important ones stand out for railway operations between the two territories.
First, that from now on the drivers of Comboios de Portugal (CP), the Portuguese operator, will no longer have to prove the B1 level of Spanish. Second, and this is especially significant for Spain: Transport slips that now it is Renfe’s turn to obtain the Safety Certificate in Portugal. It is the same document that you aspire to obtain in France to operate throughout its territory.
The connection between Madrid and Lisbon. Undoubtedly, one of the points that generates the most expectation is that of the route between the two Iberian capitals, covered until before the pandemic by the Lusitania train hotel and which —as Moncloa recalls— appears next to the Lisbon-A Coruña corridor in the plan prepared by the European Commission to promote the railway in cross-border movements.
In Spain, the 150 km high-speed section that runs between Plasencia, Cáceres, Mérida and Badajoz was inaugurated in the summer after an investment of 1,700 million that allowed the journey between Madrid and the capital of Badajoz to be cut by 51 minutes. On March 6, the connection of the Southwestern European logistics platform with the Adif network between Badajoz and the border was put into service, which —according to the Government— allows “greater integration of the logistics system of both countries.” Badajoz-Monfragüe electrification is expected this summer.
The steps to the other side of the Raya. Portugal now wants to start up its first high-speed line, a 90-kilometre corridor between Évora and Elvas that would leave the new infrastructure at the gates of La Raya. The goal is for the line to be ready this year for both freight and passengers.
The Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa, even went so far as to ensure that in 2024 the connection line with a fast train between Badajoz and Lisbon will already be a reality: both cities will thus be connected in about one hour and 50 minutes.
With an eye to the north. The Lisbon-Extremadura corridor, and by extension with Madrid, is not the only one that focuses the attention of both Executives. In the railway balance with which the summit closed, the Ministry of Transport also highlighted the bidding for the contract to draw up and process the informative study of the South Exit of Vigo. What’s that? The connection with which he wants to improve communication between the south of Galicia and the north of Portugal, now linked to the so-called Celtic Train, which despite having planned improvements cannot compete, neither in time nor in frequency, with the road trips.
“The Sus exit constitutes a fundamental piece of the new Vigo-Porto high-speed line,” highlighted the department of Raquel Sánchez this week, when presenting the latest administrative advances. The Portuguese Executive has already shown its interest in the infrastructure of the north, which will be able to connect with the line of the Atlantic Axis with A Coruña. Its potential has already attracted private interest.
Cover image: Pablo Nieto Abad (Flickr)
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