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A "new" AVE line, or: how to spin old projects

by DoDo Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 02:20:34 PM EST

In the Salon, Migeru posted excerpts of an article about the announcement of a new high-speed line in Spain:

El AVE unirá en cuatro horas el Cantábrico y el Mediterráneo · ELPAÍS.comSpain's High Speed [AVE] trains will link the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean in less than four hours - ElPais.com
El Ministerio de Fomento tendrá en marcha a finales de este año todas las actuaciones y obras para articular el nuevo corredor ferroviario transversal que permitirá conectar por línea AVE de uso mixto (para pasajeros y mercancías) el Cantábrico y el Mediterráneo en un tiempo de viaje de unas cuatro horas, frente a las nueve que es preciso invertir actualmente. El corredor discurrirá a través de Teruel, Zaragoza y el eje del Ebro, y contará con dos conexiones con el País Vasco, una por Logroño y otra por Pamplona. También enlazará con Santander por Bilbao, según el estudio funcional del proyecto presentado hoy en Zaragoza por el ministro de Fomento, José Blanco.By the end of the year, [Spain's] Ministry of Public Works will have started  all the actions and works necessary to create the new transverse [to the radial lines emanating from Madrid, that is – Migeru] railway corridor, which will allow a connection between the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean over a mixed-use (passenger and freight) high-speed line, taking 4 hours instead of the 9 it takes currently. The corridor is via Teruel, Zaragoza and the Ebro river axis, and will include two connections with the Basque Country, one via Logroño and one via Pamplona. It will also link Santander via Bilbao, according to a functional study of the project presented today in Zaragoza by the Minister José Blanco.

The imminent start of projecting and/or construction can only be welcomed. However, the project is, or more precisely, the projects are neither truly new, nor all that ambitious. The announcement is a nice example of how political spin is used in presenting transport infrastructure projects.

Migeru's [slightly edited] translation continues:

En la actualidad, el corredor está formado por tramos de diferentes líneas ferroviarias y de distintas características, que suman 740 kilómetros de longitud. Su articulación pasa así por la construcción de algunos trazados y la adaptación a AVE de otros ya existentes.Currently, the corridor is made up of sections of different railway lines, with different [technical] characteristics, which add up to 740 km in total. Establishing [the corridor] requires the construction of some [new] lines and the adaptation of some existing ones for the AVE.
Para el ministro, los actuales "retos económicos" obligan a potenciar las comunicaciones terrestres, ya que el futuro modelo económico español se basará en la sostenibilidad ambiental, la competitividad económica y la cohesión social. "España es un referente en Alta Velocidad ferroviaria y el futuro corredor será una pieza clave para relanzar el transporte de mercancías por ferrocarril, al mejorar la unión de España con Europa y del Cantábrico con el Mediterráneo", ha afirmado.According to the minister, the current "economic challenges" require the strengthening of land connections, as the future Spanish economic model will be based on environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, and social cohesion. "Spain is a reference in high-speed rail and the future corridor will be a key piece to relaunch rail freight, by improving the linkage of Spain with Europe and of the Bay of Biscay with the Mediterranean".

The new corridor (in dark blue), drawn over the old lines (red: broad gauge, green: narrow gauge), and other existing or in-construction high-speed lines (light blue)
(Map from article with my edits)

Now, what's really behind this announcement? Let me first review the politics.

In many countries, the main left-wing party played the pro-HSR role, while the main right-wing party played the braker. Not so in Spain: high-speed rail is in a fortunate political situation that both of the two main parties – the Socialists (PSOE) and the People's Party (PP) – compete in promising to build more/better.

Ahead of the last change at the helm, the main attack line of the then opposition PSOE against the massive high-speed rail programme of PM José Maria Aznar's PP government was its centralisation: all the lines ran out of Madrid. The PSOE being a champion of the autonomy of the regions, they called for transversal lines.

However, in the Zapatero era, until now, there has been exactly one project started that can be called transversal (Murcia–Almería) – and several stalled projects. To make up for that, from last year, the government aimed to polish up some Aznar-era projects west of Zaragoza, which would lend themselves for traffic towards Barcelona. (Currently, the same relations are served by well-frequented gauge-changing trains running for nearly a year now.)

With today's announcement, not just these, but a whole bunch of separate older projects have been re-packaged as a new Cantábrico–Mediterráneo axis:

  1. Zaragoza–Teruel–Sagunto (the south-eastern half): this won't be a true high-speed line. The (single track electrified) upgrade of the section until Teruel was started long ago, to function as a branch of the Madrid–Barcelona line.

    For the Aznar government, this upgrade was to be part of an ambitious project for freight trains: a standard-gauge corridor from the old Canfranc tunnel at the French border all the way down to the Mediterranean. Alas, France obstructed that by refusing to restore the connecting line on their side – so trucks continue to roll across narrow valleys in the Pyrenees...

    In the uncertain future, Spain and France intend to build a 40 km Trans-Pyrenees Base Tunnel, so that freight corridor might become a much more expensive reality 2–3 decades later than first envisaged.

  2. The line starting west of Zaragoza and bifurcating to Logroño and Pamplona was planned as another branch of the Madrid–Barcelona line in Aznar times. The Zapatero government put it on ice until last year. However, the original plans were extra lean (part of it would have been a dual-gauge section shared with the conventional line...), so plans are improved here.

  3. The Aznar government seriously discussed an extension from Pamplona to Vitoria, too, but without a date.

  4. The parallel extension from Logroño to Miranda de Ebro has been mentioned earlier, too, but the Aznar government apparently saw a necessity for only one of the two parallel transversal connections. The local PSOE in Logroño made much of this.

  5. The Miranda de Ebro–Vitoria section is part of the main corridor from Madrid to the north (and eventually on to Paris) – proposed already in the González era. Tendering started here recently.

  6. Vitoria–Bilbao/San Sebastián is called the "Basque Y", and is another part of the main corridor from Madrid to the north. It was first tendered in the Aznar era, but in violation of some EU tendering conditions, so tenders had to be re-issued. It is in construction for two years now (suffering occasional attacks from an ETA fearing too close integration into Spain).

There are two sections that are more or less new, but both are less ambitious than what was discussed over the past few years:

  1. The Pamplona–San Sebastián loop. This could have been a nice addition, but, it ended up as a diversion of the end of the originally planned Pamplona–Vitoria line. Well, at least it looks good in the PSOE scheme of things, serving transversal traffic only.

  2. Bilbao–Santander. At the start of the Zapatero era, the PSOE had two top ideas as signature 'transversal' projects: a line all along the northern coast, and a spur to Santander from somewhere to the west of Miranda (for trains from the north coast towards Barcelona, but also fit for Madrid–Santander). However, the first doesn't promise high passenger numbers, while the second would require another expensive mountain crossing. What remained of the two ideas was this single section.

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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

Expanded version of my Salon comment, as per request.

Re-selling and re-packaging pre-existing projects, including ones put on ice, as some bold new initiative is practised elsewhere, too.

A prime example is President Sarkozy's announcement of a grand TGV expansion programme earlier this year: most of it was started or planned already back when Jospin was PM, but Chirac and Juppé put them on ice later.

You see this at EU level, too: for example, the so-called Main Line for Europe, Paris-Vienna-Bratislava/Budapest. Again disparate projects are touted as a single trans-European project, despite lots of gaps between high-performance fast lines.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 02:30:49 PM EST
... they said the ideal Road Project would cover thirty kilometers in five segments, so each segment could be:

  • announced before one election

  • break ground before the next election, three years later

  • cut ribbon before the next election, three years later ...

... repeat times five, to finish in 45 years at a pace of 2/3 km per year.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 10:47:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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