EU and Spanish Government prioritise the Mediterranean railway connection

The high speed and capacity railway connection for freight and passengers connecting Spain with France will run along the Mediterranean shore. The option of going via Zaragoza through the middle of the Pyrenees clashes with the economic crisis.


June 15, 2010 05:24 PM

Zaragoza (CNA).- The informal meeting of EU Transport Ministers held on Tuesday and Wednesday in Zaragoza has almost granted the Mediterranean option as a first priority for the railway connection between Spanish industrial centres and France and Europe. An undercover argument has been going on for almost a decade, especially since 2003, when the Aznar Government passed a Spanish railway plan that put Madrid at the centre of all the connections, disregarding the Peninsula’s periphery. Aznar’s radial plan obliged linking the South of Spain to Europe via Madrid, neglecting the rich and industrial Mediterranean shore. Now, the current crisis has put economic efficiency on the front line instead of political objectives to change industrial poles in Spain. The Spanish Government has confirmed that it will formally ask to include the Mediterranean option as a European priority. However, the final decision will be taken in the future.

Barcelona is the main harbour of Spain and Valencia the second one. Besides, they are the second and the third most populated cities of Spain. Catalonia and Valencia are two industrial centres; they produce more than 40% of Spanish exports. Furthermore, they are the main tourist centres of Spain. They have been claiming a high speed train connection with Europe as well as high capacity freight railway for decades and the Spanish Government always looked to another direction. A high speed passenger train line was built linking Madrid to Seville and Córdoba in 1992. No more lines were built for a decade. On one hand, work started on a line linking Madrid to Barcelona via Zaragoza, though the service was not put into place until 2008. Carrying on the line from Barcelona to the French border is not yet possible. On the other hand, the high speed train line linking Barcelona and Valencia is not even under construction and the freight line is far from being a high capacity one. However, in the next months the high speed passenger line linking Madrid and Valencia will enter into service.

The informal council of EU Transport Ministers held in Zaragoza was the place to discuss European transport priorities on a continental scale. While transport in Eastern Europe is the main priority, important deficits still exist in the West and in particular along the Mediterranean shore. The economic crisis has made the linking of main Spanish harbours and their main industrial poles to the rest of Europe become a European priority. The Mediterranean railway option was recognised as crucial during the meeting, with the consent of the Spanish Government. One option that is been talked about for decades is the construction of a route that cuts through the Aragonese Pyrenees. This option includes more than 60 kilometres of tunnels through the Pyrenees mountain range, with astronomic costs. The plan to drill through the Pyrenees was overlooked but not officially abandoned, since the meeting was held in Aragon. It was the first time that the Spanish Government unveiled, although partially, its ambiguity on the issue. Furthermore, France has not shown a clear commitment to build its part up to Toulouse. Catalan and Valencian delegations at the meeting have received the news as a victory on what has been a long struggle of crucial importance for their economic development. The final decision will depend on the Spanish Government and its agreement with the other Member State governments. However, the railway linking Northern Africa with Central Europe and the harbours of Rotterdam and Hamburg through the Mediterranean shore seems closer than ever before to become a reality.