The Mediterranean Rail Corridor will be a reality in 2020

The Spanish Government will invest 25.4 billion euros up until 2020 in this strategic railway infrastructure for goods transportation that will link Spain’s Mediterranean seaports with Central and Northern Europe. The European Commission has to decide in the next 3 months whether the transport axis is a European priority.

CNA / Josep Ramon Torné / Gaspar Pericay Coll

March 17, 2011 06:40 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The Spanish Government finally detailed its plan for the Mediterranean Rail Corridor. The strategic railway project for freight transportation running along the Mediterranean coast and linking Spain’s main seaports and industrial centres (such as Barcelona and Valencia) with Central Europe will change the historical radial model of Spanish infrastructure. According to the President of the Catalan Government, “it is the first infrastructural project that breaks the radial model” which makes everything pass through Madrid. The Spanish Minister for Transport, José Blanco, underlined that this “will break 500 years of centralisation”. The Railway Corridor will also include a High Speed Railway for passengers and will link major centres such as Barcelona, Valencia, and Murcia, which are important industrial and tourist areas. After many years of lobbying by the business sector and public powers, the Spanish Government gave in and decided to announce this new plan, which comes with a delay of decades. 25.4 billion euros will be invested up until 2020, when the service will start being operative between Perpignan (in southern France) and Almería (in Andalusia). The final section between Almería and Algeciras, passing through Málaga, will be built later and an alternative and longer route looks likely. Therefore the direct connection with the Strait of Gibraltar and North Africa will be delayed. Other future improvements are also planned. In total, the Spanish Government aims to invest more than 51.3 billion euros in this strategic infrastructural project.

After decades of demands for the Mediterranean Corridor, it appears that it will become a reality in 2020. This strategic infrastructural project was desperately petitioned by business associations from Catalonia, the Valencian Community and the Murcia Community, with their demands becoming more vocal in the last number of years. The private sector promoted an association at European-level, FERRMED, to put this infrastructural project among the EU’s priorities. Despite the efforts and the understanding found in Europe, the issue is still pending. It is the Spanish Government that has to make the steps to build it and to ask it to be included among the EU’s main priorities. If finally included, it would receive EU funds through the ERDF to partially pay for its construction. Public powers from the territories affected, such as the Catalan Government, have been asking the Spanish Government to prioritise the Mediterranean railway for freight transportation and High Speed Railway for passengers. However, the Spanish Government continued to plan everything through Madrid. The economic crisis hit political plans and made the Mediterranean Corridor the best option to boost the ailing economy.

Spain’s radial model, a political decision with economic logics put aside

Spain’s High Speed Railway model is radial; from Madrid to all corners of the Iberian Peninsula, connecting Madrid to 50 provincial capitals of Spain. The radial model did not prioritise the connection with France and thus with Europe without going through Madrid. For instance, the High Speed Connection between Spain’s second and third cities –Barcelona and Valencia– was only announced yesterday. It will be the first High Speed Railway to break the radial model.

The plans to build international width tracks for freight transportation would allow trains to circulate non-stop to the heart of Europe. These plans were also radial despite having the main seaports along the Mediterranean Coast. Barcelona is Spain’s main seaport and industrial centre. The radial model marginalised it. The Spanish Government announced some years ago the construction of a corridor for freight transportation linking Algeciras (next to Gibraltar) with Madrid. Then, this railway would go from Madrid to Zaragoza and it would cross the Central Pyrenees and enter southern France. French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, already stated that the Central Pyrenees Corridor is an expensive option and that his priority is the Mediterranean one. However, this expensive option, is still on the priority table.

The Central-Pyrenees Corridor remains a priority

It appears to remain a priority even if this line is extremely expensive to build and also despite the fact that it does not take into account the economic need to link Spain’s main seaports and industrial centres along the Mediterranean Coast with France and thus Central Europe. The political decision was to boost central Spain by avoiding the Mediterranean Coast and linking Madrid directly with France passing through the Central Pyrenees. After claims and lobbying from the public and private sectors in Catalonia and Valencia, the Spanish Government finally accepted the Mediterranean Corridor. However, the Central Pyrenees Corridor remains. The Spanish Government will keep its plans to build it and to include it as a European priority. As well as the Central-Pyrenees Corridor, it added the Mediterranean one. Those lobbying for the Mediterranean Corridor are not asking for the Central-Pyrenees not to be built; they are simply asking to prioritise the Mediterranean one and afterwards build the Central-Pyrenees Corridor. The fear is that both are planned at the same time, and therefore there will not be funds available for both. Another fear is that if both are to be prioritised in Europe at the same time, the Mediterranean Corridor could be left out despite being the most logical option in economic terms, as it is cheaper and it will boost already existing economic engines.

The Mediterranean Corridor will link Barcelona and Valencia seaports non-stop with Lyon, Hamburg and Stockholm,

When the Mediterranean Rail Corridor is built, freight will be able to go, for instance, from Almería’s port to Hamburg non-stop, as it will have international width track for freight transportation. It will open a gateway in Southern Europe for goods from Central and Northern Europe, and facilitate the exportation and importation of products to Africa and Asia by sea. Therefore, it will also enhance logistics nodes, such as Barcelona, which will have first-class airports, seaports, passenger High Speed Trains, and international width rail track for freight transportation connecting it with Central Europe non-stop. It will thus be a strategic asset for the entire economy of the European Union and an alternative to the current dependence on North Sea ports. Barcelona port is the jewel in the crown of this corridor, complemented by other important ports such as Tarragona and Valencia. It will also end with the current bottle necks, where trains only have a single track to circulate in both directions. Finally, it will also include High Speed Railway for passengers.

High Speed Trains between Tarragona and Valencia

The Spanish Minister for Transport, José Blanco, also announced that finally, the passenger High Speed Railway between Tarragona and Valencia will be build. This line will link Spain’s second and third most populated cities: Barcelona and Valencia. Currently it takes more than 3 hours to cover the 400 kilometres between both cities. With the new line, it will take about 1 hour and 45 minutes. This line will also link the Valencian Community by High Speed Train, which is one of the most important tourist centres in Europe, with France. This connection will cost 5 billion euros (included in the total amounts aforementioned).