Catalans shocked by decision to prioritise the Central Railway Corridor

The Spanish Minister for Public Works and Transport, Ana Pastor, announced she would prioritise the Central Railway Corridor, which would link the Gibraltar area with Madrid, Zaragoza, Toulouse and the rest of Europe through the Central Pyrenees. The European Commission announced in October it would not fund the Central Corridor, but those along the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts, where the main industrial centres and ports are located. The Catalan business community and political parties have pushed for the Mediterranean Corridor. Their fear was that the current crisis combined with prioritising the construction of a second corridor might push resources away from the Mediterranean.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

February 17, 2012 12:16 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- The new Spanish Government, which is now controlled by the Conservative People’s Party (PP), has decided to include the so-called Central Railway Corridor among its priorities. This railway would allow for freight transportation on international standard width track and passengers in high-speed trains. It would link the Gibraltar area with Madrid and the Spanish capital with Zaragoza, Toulouse and the rest of Europe through a 40 km tunnel through the Central Pyrenees. However, the French Government said they did not consider it a priority to build their part of the railway between Toulouse and the Spanish border in the middle of the Pyrenees. The former Spanish Government presented a new priority plan to the European Commission last summer where the railway connection between the Gibraltar area and Central Europe would be built along the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts, and not through the Central Pyrenees. This last connection had been considered a priority in the past, instead of the Mediterranean and Atlantic corridors. Mediterranean railway infrastructure is poor and has helped to slow the Spanish economy, because it is where the main ports, export, industrial, and tourist centres are located. The Central Corridor has been chosen for political reasons and not for economic purposes. Spain’s transport network has been designed in a radial system with Madrid in the centre. The Mediterranean Corridor was not included in this plan, until last October, when the European Commission announced it was including it as an EU Transport priority and thus entitled to receive EU funding. However, on Wednesday, the Spanish Minister for Public Works and Transport, Ana Pastor, said that the Central Corridor would be one of her top priorities. The announcement has shocked the Catalan business community and political class, who fear that a shift of resources from the Mediterranean Corridor to the Central Corridor might take place. Many have stressed that, in times of economic difficulty, billion euro investments need to be carried out where they can exploit the economy the most. Joan Amorós, the Secretary General of Ferrmed -a business lobby for the Mediterranean Corridor with members throughout Europe- wants the Mediterranean railway to be built and, once accomplished, a Central corridor could also be built. However, he considers it unrealistic and inefficient building both at the same time.

The shocked reaction in Catalonia against Ana Pastor’s announcement to prioritise the Central Corridor has come from political parties, institutions and business circles. The fear is that the construction of the Mediterranean Corridor could be delayed and classed as secondary to the  Central Corridor. The reason is simple: there is no money to build all these infrastructural projects at the same time and thus, by insisting in doing so, economic resources will be split or directly shifted.

Foment del Treball, Catalonia’s main business owners association, insisted on Thursday for the crucial need for the Mediterranean Corridor, which would link all the Spanish Mediterranean ports with Central Europe on one side and with North Africa on the other. It would enable freight to be transported by international standard width rail from Stockholm, Hamburg, Lyon or Milan to Barcelona and Tarragona ports or to the Gibraltar area, and vice-versa. It would also connect with high-speed trains business and tourist centres in the Costa del Sol, Alacant, València, Costa Daurada, Barcelona or the Costa Brava and with Central Europe.

Catalan politicians have been more vocal than business people, criticising Pastor’s announcement. Even a member of the People’s Party (the same as Pastor), Alejandro Fernández, who is a Member of the Spanish Parliament and councilman in Tarragona, stated that the Central Corridor “does not make any sense”. However, the Spokesperson for the People’s Party (PP) in the Catalan Parliament, Enric Millo, said that Pastor’s announcement “does not mean a priority shift”, and that “both corridors are not incompatible”. Furthermore, he stressed his party’s commitment to the Mediterranean Corridor.

“Neither we understand it, nor will the European Union”

The Catalan Minister for Public Works, Transport and Sustainability, Lluís Recoder, said he does not to understand why the Central Corridor is once again on the table because it is “impossible and anti-economic”, and a project of “Pharaoh proportions”. Recoder insisted that the project is out of the economic possibilities of Spain, and especially in current times. He said that the project includes digging a tunnel of 40 kilometres through the Pyrenees, while other priorities would have to be put aside. “Neither we understand it, nor will the European Union”. The Mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias, who was in Brussels on Thursday, was even clearer. “It is nonsensical”, he said. He also explained that a few days ago he spoke with Ana Pastor and “agreed that the top priority was the Mediterranean Corridor”; “I do not understand it”, he added. The main representative of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) at the Catalan Parliament, and former Catalan Minister for Transport, Joaquim Nadal, told the press that “the Central Corridor is an unsustainable utopia” in times of economic difficulties. He also added that it is “foolish” trying “to make everybody happy” by spending billions of euro in transport infrastructure that do not answer to “a real demand”.