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Barcelona El Prat Airport to be connected by metro by early 2016

The Barcelona Metro will reach El Prat Airport by the first half of 2016, perhaps even earlier, according to forecasts announced on Wednesday by the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas. The L9 line connecting Barcelona municipality to El Prat Airport and other cities has been under construction since 2002, and was originally anticipated to open in 2008, but the financial crisis and the state of public finances have delayed its full completion. An initial stretch of the line became operational in 2009, located at the opposite end to the airport. Once fully finished, the underground line will consist of two branches spanning across the Barcelona metropolitan area, making it the longest automatic metro line in Europe. The entire project will represent a total investment of €16 billion, €3 billion of which is for the airport connection. The test phase of the airport stretch will begin this autumn and should be completed by early 2016 or earlier.

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04 June 2014 03:18 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN ).- The Barcelona Metro will reach El Prat Airport by the first half of 2016, perhaps even earlier, according to forecasts by the Catalan Government. President Artur Mas made the announcement on Wednesday, in a visit held at the future Parc Logistic Station, one of the fifteen stations of the section between El Prat Airport and Zona Universitària Station, which is one end of the current L3 line. The L9 stretch connecting to the airport will open in early 2016. The L9 and L10 lines connecting Barcelona municipality to El Prat Airport and other cities have been under construction since 2002, and were originally anticipated to open in 2008. However their full completion had been stymied by the financial crisis and setbacks to public finances. An initial stretch of the line became operational in 2009, located at the opposite end to the airports. However most of the lines' construction was slowed down or completely stopped. Once fully finished, the L9 and L10 system will consist of a common central stretch and two branches at both ends spanning across the Barcelona metropolitan area, encompassing Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Badalona, l'Hospitalet de Llobregat and El Prat de Llobregat, as well as Barcelona. The total L9 and L10 system will have a length of 48 km, making L9 the longest automatic metro line in Europe, but the year for its full completion is yet to be decided. Once the airport connection is operational in early 2016, the L9-L10 will already have 32km ready to be used. The entire project will involve a total investment of €16 billion, of which €3 billion corresponds to the airport connection. The test phase of the airport stretch will begin this autumn and trial trains will run throughout 2015.


Slow progress and the development of the line

Artur Mas has admitted that the decision to reactivate the construction of the L9 and its parallel branch, L10, has not been easy and the state of public finances meant that on more than one occasion he had been "tempted" not to do so. Initially expected to be ready by 2008, the date of full completion has been continually put off by the Catalan Government, and in recent years financial difficulties have stymied its construction. While on one side of the Catalan capital, the northern branches of L9 and L10 are already in operation since opening a few years ago, the construction of the central section has been entirely halted, while work at the southern end has gradually continued due to the strategic importance of linking El Prat Airport’s terminals with the rest of the underground system.

An initial small stretch of the L9 was completed in December 2009, when the section between Can Peixauet and Can Zam, with the exception of Santa Rosa Station, opened to the public. They were located in Santa Coloma de Gramenet municipality, in the northern part of the Metropolitan Area while the airport is in the southern part. A further station, Bon Pastor, opened on 18 April 2010; as the first section of L10 was opened. The section from La Sagrera to Bon Pastor (except Sagrera Station) opened on 26 June 2010. In total, this part of the L9 and L10 system encompasses a total of 11 km and 12 stations.

A strategic connection for business

The Catalan Government have been concentrating resources in the section between Zona Universitària Station (one of L3's ends) and the new T1 airport terminal, where the main airlines operate. Once the airport stretch will become operational, L9 will connect with the metro lines L1, L3 and L5, and with commuter trains of FGC and Renfe short-distance trains. Crucially, it will also link both airport terminals, Mercabarna and Fira de Barcelona’s Gran Via venue, with the entire underground system. In addition, the line will connect the T1 and T2 airport terminals to local and regional trains.

Mas described the connection of the airport with the underground network as part of a strategy "to breathe life into the economic activity" of Catalonia, and its construction should allow the incipient economic recovery to "take flight.'' The President explained that a ''giant'' effort had been required to resume the construction of this section of the L9, and many sacrifices had been made to allow the Government to balance the budget. Among these efforts, he highlighted the 200,000 public workers who have seen their purchasing power reduced with reductions in wage payments during the last few years.

While because of its strategic importance, construction will continue on this southern section of the L9, other sections have seen work stop entirely. In the case of the stretch between La Sagrera stop and Zona Universitària, there is no specific date to resume construction for this particular part of the L9 and L10. In this section, four kilometres of drilled tunnels remain unused, from 2011 stations Lesseps and Manel Girona. The rest of the line and the tunnels are fully done. The Catalan Government have argued that public services and the pillars of the Welfare State model should be instead prioritised.

The driverless metro on Europe's longest underground line

The new section of the L9 that will be launched between the University area and El Prat Airport has a distance of 20 km: the longest network in Barcelona (hitherto L1), and the longest automated driverless system in Europe. The estimated travel time is 30 minutes. Furthermore, once the Airport connection will be operational, the L9 and L10 system will have a total of 32km ready for the passenger's use. Once the entire L9 and L10 are finished, they will be 47.8 km long.

Artur Mas recognized that the L9 is a not the conventional metro to the airport as you might find in many European cities.  Because of the high number of stations forcing the strategic connection between the Besós and Llobregat rivers, the line takes an orbital route around Barcelona municipality rather than passing through the city centre. However, Mas said that the Barcelona metro would serve to reconnect economic centres and neighbourhoods, and to maintain a sustainable mobility model, it was necessary to opt for this route. He added that although it is not a high-speed Metro, ''it is of high frequency.'' In addition, there are commuter trains linking the airport with the city centre.

Over the new 20 km stretch there will be 15 stations, 3 stations less than originally planned. The Camp Nou (which is used for the extraction of land ), Ribera (because it has been the deployment area), and the station of the cargo terminal of El Prat have been cancelled and their opening indefinitely postponed.

Cost of €3 billion

The cost of the airport connection resulted in the expenditure of €2,800 million and a further €185 million is needed to pay for its completion. The project will therefore involve a total investment of €2.985 million. However, the entire L9 and L10 system is expected to reach a total cost of €16 billion, significantly higher than the amount originally planned.

This autumn, trains will be trialled on tracks across the new stretch, according to Santi Vila, Catalan Minister of Planning and Sustainability, who accompanied the Catalan President during his visit to the construction works. Vila explained that this testing phase will continue throughout 2015 but any additional or unexpected work outside the initial estimates will stretch completion into early 2016. Vila has announced that at this time the company responsible for the operation of the line, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB) already has a fleet of trains ready to deploy on this new line. The Minister has refused to be more specific the date of opening, although he noted that the forecasts were cautious, and the timing could even change after the conditional test period.

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  • Workers setting up the train tracks within the L9 tunnel (by J. Molina)

  • Workers setting up the train tracks within the L9 tunnel (by J. Molina)