Central Europe will be better connected by rail with Spain’s Mediterranean ports, industrial centres and tourist destinations

The European Commission has included the Mediterranean Railway Corridor for freight and passengers among the next EU transport priorities. The EU might pay between 10% and 20% of the construction costs if it is finished before 2030. The ports of Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Almería and Algeciras will become true European gateways to North Africa and Asia. In addition, high-speed trains will travel along the Spanish Mediterranean coast to France. Catalan politicians and business people have unanimously celebrated the good news but believe it comes too late and fear the Spanish Government could still prioritise other corridors. In fact, the EC also included other corridors, which pass through Madrid. Therefore Spain’s traditional radial model may still persist.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

October 19, 2011 10:59 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The long awaited Mediterranean Railway Corridor for freight and passengers has finally been included among the European transport priorities, and therefore trying to break Spain’s radial infrastructure model. However, by also including other corridors passing through Madrid on the list, it all depends on the Spanish Government’s commitment. The European Commission announced on Wednesday the next European core transport networks, which will be entitled to receive EU funds for part of their construction. Central and Northern Europe will be better connected with the ports of Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Cartagena, Almería, and Algeciras thanks to this huge infrastructural project that will become a true asset for the European economy. The heart of Europe will be better connected to gateways in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as with an already economically dynamic area. Spain’s Mediterranean coast will become “Europe’s southern gate”, as defined by the union of chambers of commerce and business associations. Passengers travelling with high-speed trains and goods transported by non-stop trains will go on international-width standard tracks from Spain’s Mediterranean ports, industrial and business centres and main tourist destinations to France, Germany, Switzerland or Italy. The infrastructure will cost around 51.3 billion euros and must be completed by 2030 in order to receive EU funds paying for a sum between 10% and 20% of its construction costs. The rest will have to be paid by the Spanish Government.

However, the Spanish Government insisted in including not only the Mediterranean Railway Corridor but up to five others, in view of the elections scheduled in one month. And the European Commission accepted Spain’s proposal. Therefore, despite having included the Mediterranean Railway Corridor among the EU priorities, if the Spanish Government refuses to prioritise it –as it has done up until now–, the other corridors in Spain and passing through Madrid could be built much earlier than the Mediterranean option. The Catalan Government, many Catalan parties and business people have asked the next Spanish Government to start investing in the Mediterranean Corridor to have this key infrastructure built in 2020, and not in twenty years time. The People’s Party, which according to the polls will run the Spanish Government for the next four years, stated today that it is committed in giving absolute priority to the Mediterranean Corridor from the start of their run.

The European Commission has released a revision of the trans-European transport networks and this time Spain’s Mediterranean coast has been included. “Not everything has to go through the centre of Spain” the European Commissioner for Transport Siim Kallas told ACN on Wednesday in Brussels, after having announced the new EU transport priorities. Kallas added that the Commission experts consider that Spain “has traditionally had a very centralist infrastructural model”, and that breaking the centralist model was “the main point” of Spain’s civil society, which has been actively lobbying in Brussels through FERRMED, among other organisations. However, Kallas stressed that it will now be the Spanish authorities choice to decide which corridor they start investing in first.

Now the Spanish Government has to prioritise the Mediterranean Railway Corridor

The European Commission has included “almost all” the corridors proposed by Spain, as Kallas said. Together with the Mediterranean Corridor, the European Commission will partially fund the railway corridors linking Madrid to Algeciras and Zaragoza, Madrid to the Basque Country, Santander, and Galicia, Madrid to Lisbon, Madrid to Valencia and Zaragoza to Valencia. The only two corridors breaking the radial model are in fact the Mediterranean route and the corridor linking Bilbao, Pamplona, Zaragoza, Teruel and Valencia. However, this myriad of corridors able to receive EU funds need to mostly be paid, between 80% and 90% of their cost, by the Spanish Government. Since the EU funds “expire” in 2030, if the infrastructural project has not been built, the Spanish Government could still decide to give priority to all the corridors passing through Madrid and postpone the construction of the Mediterranean corridor for some years.

The Catalan Government celebrated the European Commission's "historical decision" to include the Mediterranean Railway Corridor among the priorities but stressed that from now on, the investments by the Spanish Government are what counts. The Catalan Minister for Public Works, Lluís Recoder, stated that “the work must go on”. Recoder will keep “the maximum peaceful belligerence” in pushing for the Catalan claims to prioritise the construction of this corridor to be fulfilled by the Spanish Government.

The Spanish Minister for Public Works, José Blanco, stated that in 2020, all the infrastructural sections of the corridor will be “practically finished”. Blanco said he was very “satisfied” with the European Commission’s announcement, which includes up to five corridors. According to him, the list “consolidates passing from a radial Spain to a Spain planned as a network regarding the European infrastructural needs”.

Meanwhile, several figures from the People’s Party (PP), which according to all the polls will run the next Spanish Government from the next elections (scheduled for November 20th), are committed to prioritising the construction of the Mediterranean Railway Corridor. Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, the leader of the PP in Catalonia, said she “is convinced” that if the PP is to run the next Spanish Government, it “will have as a priority the development, impulse and execution of the Mediterranean Corridor and all the connected infrastructural projects, such as the access to Barcelona Port”. In addition, she said the PP will work to build “this reality as soon as possible”.

The corridor through the Central Pyrenees is finally not an EU priority

The only corridor in Spain that was finally not included was the part of the so-called Central Corridor linking Zaragoza with Toulouse through the Central Pyrenees. Siim Kallas said it is “immensely expensive” to build and “it raises safety and environmental concerns”. “I am sure that there are no realistic perspectives to develop it before 2030”, he admitted. “There is no proof that Spain and France will have the funds and the commitment to develop this corridor” Kallas stated. He explained why the part between Zaragoza and Toulouse was dropped from the list.