The European Parliament considers the Mediterranean Railway Corridor to be "absolutely imperative and crucial"

The Chairman of the EP’s Transport Committee, the British MEP Brian Simpson, has stated that building the Mediterranean Railway Corridor for freight and passengers is “absolutely imperative and crucial” for the European economy. On the contrary, the third corridor going through the Central Pyrenees, linking Zaragoza and Toulouse is “not-viable and not-needed”. “Drilling mountains is very very expensive”, he warned. The Mediterranean Railway Corridor would link Central and Northern Europe with Spain’s Mediterranean ports by international-width tracks. In addition, it would include a high-speed train service for passengers.

CNA / Albert Segura

October 10, 2011 11:45 PM

Brussels (ACN).- The Chairman of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament, the British Labour MEP Brian Simpson, supports the inclusion of the Mediterranean Railway Corridor into the next map of the European priority networks. On October 19th the European Commission will announce which are the European transport priorities for the next number of years, which means they will be entitled to receive EU funds for their construction. The Commission has to choose 15 projects among all the proposals from the 27 Member States. The Spanish Government is insisting on proposing three railway corridors for freight and passengers linking Spain with France and thus with Central and Northern Europe: the Atlantic Corridor –going through the Basque Country-, the Mediterranean Corridor –linking Montpellier, Perpignan with Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Murcia, Almería, Málaga and Algeciras-, and the Central Corridor –linking Madrid, Zaragoza and Toulouse through the Central Pyrenees-. In the current context, there is no money available to build these three options. The last option –the Central Corridor- was already included in the map in 2003, but it is far more expensive and  is based more on political reasons than on economic logic. Work has never started because of the enormous costs. Brian Simpson has warned the Spanish Government that drilling in the Central Pyrenees is “very very expensive”, and does not make this option “viable” in the current context of economic difficulties. In addition, it is not clear if the French Government is willing to build its part, as a year ago French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it was too expensive. On the other hand, the Mediterranean option is cheaper to build and is much more logical from an economic point of view, as freight trains could go non-stop from Central and Northern Europe to Spain’s Mediterranean ports, trading with North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In addition, high-speed trains could transport passengers, linking Spain’s Mediterranean tourist centres, such as Barcelona, Valencia, Alacant or Málaga with France, Switzerland, Italy or Germany.

Brian Simpson, the Chairman of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, stated that building the Mediterranean Railway Corridor is “absolutely imperative” and “crucial” for the European economy. Simpson said that the two railway corridors going along Spain’s Mediterranean coast (linking Montpellier to Barcelona, Valencia and Algeciras) and Spain’s Atlantic coast (passing through the Basque Country, linking Bordeaux to Bilbao and Santander) should be included among the European Transport Priorities, which would receive EU funds paying for part of its construction costs. On the contrary, Simpson insisted that the so-called Central corridor is not “viable and needed”. However, some days ago the Spanish and the French transport ministers signed a joint declaration stating their will to build the Central Corridor, but they did not indicate any timeline. A year ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reviewed the project and said it would not be built as it was too expensive.

The Transport Committee’s Chairman is against the Central Corridor and supports only the Mediterranean and the Atlantic ones

The Chairman of the EP’s Transport Committee is also against building the Central Corridor. “I know it is very controversial, but I am not convinced about the need for a third railway corridor: if France and Spain want to pay for it, they can do it. However if you ask me if it is viable, honestly my answer is that I doubt it”, Simpson admitted to the Catalan News Agency in his office at the European Parliament. “Two corridors, for freight and passengers, is the maximum”, the British MEP said, supporting the construction of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic corridors, but not the Central one.

In order to receive EU funds, the Member State governments have to engage in paying for most of the construction costs and building the infrastructure in a given timeline. The Spanish Government guaranteed the money for the Mediterranean Corridor, and actually some small parts of it have already been built. However, the freight lines of the Central Corridor have not been built and neither have the expensive parts in the Central Pyrenees for passengers and freight.

“You don’t have to be a genius to understand that, if the French TGV railway ends near Perpignan and the Spanish TGV tracks already reach Barcelona, the most beneficial would be to connect them”, Simpson argued. The Transport Committee’s Chairman added that the Mediterranean Corridor must be for passengers and freight, “linking the Spanish ports” with “the rest of Europe”, including the industrial “North-West of England through the Channel tunnel”. Simpson criticised the attempts “to politicise” railway infrastructure without taking into account the needs of regions and Spain as a whole. He stressed that “high-speed trains are not cheap” and told the Spanish Government that there is no need to cover the whole of Spain with those train lines. The need is “to connect the main cities” and “link them with Portugal and France”. He criticised some high-speed lines already built in Spain linking small cities and having very few passengers per day.

Simpson also sees an opportunity with the construction of the Mediterranean and Atlantic corridors to solve “the mess” regarding “the difference between the European-width standard” and the Iberian one, since the corridors for freight and passengers would be built in the international-width standard. The infrastructure would thus enable trains going non-stop from Northern Europe to Spanish ports.

The Mediterranean Railway Corridor

The Mediterranean Railway Corridor would transport freight but also passengers through a High Speed Train network. It would connect all of Spain’s Mediterranean coastal resorts and cities, which are one of the world’s main tourist destinations, with Central Europe and important airports and cruise ports.

This infrastrucural project would link by international-width standard rail Spain’s main ports in Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Cartagena, Almería, Málaga and Algeciras, which are a gateway to North Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, with Central and Northern Europe. In addition, the Mediterranean Corridor would connect most of Spain’s largest industrial areas, responsible for most of the country's exports, with France and the rest of Europe.

Catalonia, the Valencian Community, the Balearic Islands and Murcia are home to 40% of Spain’s population, 40% of its GDP, 50% of its agricultural production, 55% of the industrial production, almost 60% of land goods transportation, more than 65% of sea goods traffic, 60% of exports, and 60% of international tourists visiting Spain.