Catalan government train operator FGC to manage Lleida commuter rail lines

Decision comes as cabinet tries to persuade Madrid for full control of network in Catalonia

Mollerussa train station on October 19, 2021 (by Oriol Bosch)
Mollerussa train station on October 19, 2021 (by Oriol Bosch) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

October 19, 2021 01:41 PM

The Catalan government train operator, FGC, will take over the management of the Lleida commuter service from 2024, as decided by the cabinet in its weekly meeting on Tuesday. Currently, it is run by the Spanish-government owned company, Renfe. 

FGC already manages service from Barcelona to the counties of Vallès Occidental and Baix Llobregat in the immediate surroundings of the Catalan capital, but the main commuter lines in both Barcelona and Lleida are now managed by Renfe.

The decision comes as the cabinet is trying to persuade Madrid for full control of the network throughout Catalonia.

The Catalan vice president and territory minister, Jordi Puigneró, said this is the "advance" to a model for the whole country, "operated and managed by Catalonia."

More services through Lleida, Cervera and Manresa

The Catalan government decided that the current R12 line, from L'Hospitalet de Llobregat to Lleida, will be made into two lines, LR3 and LR4, to double the number of trains running once FGC is in charge.

Indeed, trains between Lleida and Cervera are expected to double from 6 to 12 a day, and carriages from Cervera to Manresa would go from 3 to 5 according to the plans.

Puigneró said that the oldest trains would be replaced with four "more sustainable" new ones, with services such as wi-fi onboard. 

The announcement was made only a few weeks after the chaos witnessed by thousands of people in the Barcelona commuter service for some days as Renfe drivers went on strike. Delays of over four hours were seen and Barcelona's biggest stations, Sants and Plaça Catalunya, had to interrupt service on the first day of the stoppage, September 30.

The strike, the open talks between Catalonia and Spain, and the need Madrid has for the Catalan pro-independence ruling parties' support to approve the 2022 budget have reignited the long-standing demands in Barcelona for a full transfer of powers to manage the whole train network.

The Socialist-led government has recently said they are open to talking about the transfer of powers in the commuter service, but this would not include the tracks and the related infrastructures because they are also being used for other services.

Decades of complaints against Renfe

The commuter service by Renfe has been regarded by many travelers as poor and plagued with daily delays ever since the 2000s, when the works to link Madrid and Barcelona through the high-speed line AVE led to daily headaches for commuters, especially in the Baix Llobregat area.

Those using the R4 line, between the capital and Manresa, protested in the central Catalan city in February 2019 against the "lack of investment" of Renfe in the service after two deadly accidents in the prior months.

Elsewhere, a platform of R3 line users, the service between L'Hospitalet and Puigcerdà, calling themselves 'Perquè no ens fotin el tren', have been calling for a second track to be built in certain sections of the line for eight years now, rather than using just a single track for both directions.

R1, the line linking Barcelona and Costa Brava through the Maresme coastal towns, one of the most used in Spain, still also has sections where there is only one single track.

R2, covering the Vallès area and Baix Llobregat in the immediate surroundings of Barcelona including the airport, only has one service every 30 minutes to the facility, and only reaches Terminal 2, not the larger Terminal 1.

Yet, the company stated in November 2020 that the service, in general, boasts 92% of punctuality.