The Spanish Government says now that both the Mediterranean and the Mid-Pyrenees Railway Corridors are priority

The Mediterranean Railway Corridor has been constantly overlooked even though it is a key infrastructure for Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia, Andalucía,and also for Spain and even the European Union. In the last few years, the Socialist Spanish Government was constantly pushing for the Central Pyrenees Corridor (going through the Pyrenees in Aragon) for electoral and regional equilibrium reasons but the Mediterranean one was hardly mentioned. Is the EU going to include the Mediterranean Railway Corridor in its agenda?

CNA / María Fernandez Noguera / Gaspar Pericay Coll

February 25, 2011 11:10 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Should the the Spanish and Northern-African industrial railway connection go along the Mediterranean shore or through the Aragon’s Pyrenees? The Spanish Government has been pushing for the last option, as it is closer to Madrid and means Zaragoza could be a logistics platform. It answers the logics of a radial planning of infrastructures for political reasons: everything must go through Madrid, Aragon needs to foster its economy and the Socialist Party rules both the Spanish and Aragon’s Governments. Aragon's and municipal elections ara due in May and the decision is to be taken in April. However, the economic logics go in another direction. Spain’s main harbours are in the Mediterranean shore (Barcelona, Tarragona and València) and concentrate Spain’s industry and exports, with the exception of Madrid and Bilbao. The Mediterranean shore is suffering from a lack of investment in transport infrastructures, which asphyxiates its economy, which is Spain's main engine. For instance, the railway connection between the coastal cities of Tarragona (Catalonia) and Castelló (Valencian Community) has only one track, and thus trains must stop in stations to allow others to circulate. The Mediterranean Railway Corridor will link this territories with Montpellier and Lyon, with a European standard rail width. It means that Gibraltar would be linked with Lyon or Stockholm, passing through Barcelona, with the same railway width. Goods will be able to circulate non-stop across the entire European Union on rail, with all the economic efficiency and environmental advantages involved. In addition, the option of the Mediterranean Rail Corridor is much cheaper to build that drilling through the Central Pyrenees and passing through mountain regions with no industry.

This is why Ferrmed, a civil society association with businesses from the entire EU and born in Catalonia, is pushing to include the Mediterranean Railway Corridor as a European Union priority. The Spanish Government needs to formally ask for it. The Spanish Minister for Transport and Public Works committed to do so on several occasions in the past three months, but now its Ministry states that they will also push for the Mid-Pyrenees Corridor (going through the Central Pyrenees in Aragon, linking Madrid, Zaragoza and Toulouse). In the current times of austerity, both projects cannot be pursued. The European Commission already stated that the Mediterranean Corridor should be a European priority and the French Government recognised it was cheaper than the corridor through the central Pyrenees and made more sense. The Ferrmed's fear is that if the Spanish Government pushes for both, the EU will include among its priorities either one or the other, or none. There is also the option that both are included but under-budgeted, which means that the urgency to build the Mediterranean Rail Corridor will be undermined once again.

The Mediterranean Railway Corridor

The Mediterranean Railway Corridor would link Northern-Africa and Southern-Spain with Central Europe, along Spain’s Mediterranean. It would also link these territories in a European standard rail width, and not the Iberian rail width, for freight and goods transportation. Goods would go from Algeciras, València or Barcelona harbours to Lyon, Hamburg or Stockholm in the same train without stops and changes in the borders. Currently, goods have to stop in Portbou (Spain-France border), change trains and start again. The operation lasts more than 6 hours and represents an extra cost. In addition, trains are smaller and go slower, as in some points there is only one track and they are obliged to stop and wait. In addition, the project would foresee a separate High Speed Railway along the Mediterranean for passengers. It is thus a key project for the Mediterranean’s shore economy, but also for the entire Spain and the European Union. Goods from the Mediterranean harbours and Northern-Africa would be transported faster to Central Europe. In addition, it would foster Spain's main economic engine, waging for industry and exports in times of crisis.

However, the Spanish Government tends to plan infrastructures following a political and radial model: from Madrid to the corners of the Peninsula. This may answer either to an old-fashioned way of looking at territorial policy “From the kingdom’s capital to the kingdom’s corners / All the roads lead to Rome” or to a political model fostering centralism and undermining the periphery. However, it does not answer to the economic logics. The Spanish Government undermined non-radial connection that not go through Madrid. The High Speed Train planning is radial. Barcelona will not be directly linked with Murcia or Málaga, neither with Bilbao. The model is repeated now with strategic European standard width railways to transport goods.

Ferrmed held a conference in Barcelona

Ferrmed is the European-level association pushing to recognise the Mediterranean Railway Corridor as a European priority. Ferrmed organised a one-day conference in Barcelona, in the office of the European Parliament in the Catalan capital. The Spanish Government’s General Director for Ground Transportation Manel Villalante said that Madrid would push for both the Mediterranean and the Central Pyrenees corridor to be included as European Union priorities. Ferrmed fears that with this decision, the Mediterranean Corridor may once again be undermined and put aside. Another negative scenario would be to see the needed investments arrive with an enormous delay or in a too small quantity, which would once again undermine the urgency to build this key infrastructure for the Mediterranean economy but also for Spain's and the European Union's.