Catalan and Valencian businessmen urge Spanish Goverment to build Mediterranean Railway Corridor
CATALAN NEWS AGENCY – This essential investment has been repeatedly delayed by Madrid
Around 300 businessmen from Catalonia and Valencia gathered together this Monday to defend the need to build the Mediterranean Railway Corridor. This infrastructure would facilitate the transport of freight and passengers non-stop from Gibraltar to Central Europe and would connect the Spanish Mediterranean ports; an investment which, despite being essential not only for the Spanish economy but for the entire European economy as well, has been repeatedly delayed.
“The main problems are the lack of political will”, stated Vicente Boluda, president of the Valencian Association of Businessmen, one of the organisers of the conference. Joan José Brugera, President of ‘Cercle d’Economia’,the main Catalan economic forum open to businesspeople and academics, called for convincing politicians that “the Corridor is in Spain’s general interest, since it improves the competitiveness of the Mediterranean area”.
The meeting took place in Tarragona, the capital of one of the areas which suffers most from the lack of investment in the railway network. The businessmen urged the launching of the Mediterranean corridor between Algeciras, in the south of Spain and the French border, which represents 50% of the Spanish population and wealth.
The delays in the construction of the infrastructure are affecting private investment. According to the Catalan Minister for Planning and Sustainability, Josep Rull, the pending business investments are worth €300 million, among which €20 million corresponds to an investment from the German multinational Basf, which announced it will expand one of its plants in Tarragona, he explained last autumn.
Besides the Spanish Government’s repeated delays and failures to comply with the agreed compromises regarding the Corridor, the businessmen also lamented that the second and third cities in Spain, that is to say Barcelona and Valencia, are still not linked through the High Speed Trains Network. Boluda pointed out that this situation occurs in the country with the second-longest High Speed Network in the world, 80% of which is useless”, he stated.
Boluda identified two causes for the Mediterranean Corridor standstill: “the lack of planning and the lack of political will”. He also referred to the former Spanish Minister for Public Works, Ana Pastor’s unfulfilled promises. “She assured that the provisional solution, a third track, will be ready in the first quarter of 2015 and we are already in 2017”, he lamented and added that not even the Spanish Government itself “knows when this is going to be ready”.
Radial vs. circular infrastructure
The president of the Valencian Association of Businessmen also called for completing the Spanish radial transportation model with a circular network which embraces the Mediterranean area. “Maybe the current model was appropriate 200 years ago, but we would have far less problems today if we had a circular infrastructure and the two models would have been combined”, lamented Boluda and accused some politicians in Madrid of “navel-gazing”.
For his part, the president of ‘Cercle d’Economia’, Juan José Brugera, called for persuading politicians that the Mediterranean Railway Corridor is convenient for the whole of Spain. “They have to come to the conclusion that improving the competitiveness of the Mediterranean area is in Spain’s general interest” he said and lamented the slowness of the whole project and the lack of precision on the deadlines for construction.
“Every year we spend changing the railway gauges or changing trains at the border, we lose competitiveness”, lamented Fermed’s deputy general secretary, Francisco García Calvo. He also pointed out that currently the railway freight transportation represents less than 5% of the total cargo transportation and set the bar for the next years at around 20%.
Cross‑border section between Spain and France underused
According to the European Court of Auditors’ last report, published in May 2016, only 3% of total inland freight traffic between Spain and France, which amounts to around 90 million tonnes per year, is transported over the Pyrenees by rail. Despite the installation of a third railway line, during 2011 and 2012 this “was only used by a maximum of two to three freight trains per day”, and “not a single freight or passenger train has ever used the third rail since the entry into service of a new high-speed line in January 2013 with a similar route”.
The other project being studied is the new international Perpignan-Figueres railway section between France and Spain. In the first 3 years of operation (2011-2013) the annual number of freight trains using the stretch was 357 (with only 636 in 2012 and 931 in 2013), which is to be compared to the expected 8,665 freight trains for the first year of operation and a target of 19,759 freight trains in 2019. In practical terms it means that, on average, fewer than four freight trains per day used the line.
Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont referred to these figures, which he described as “very poignant”. “The fact that nearly 20,000 trains will pass along the Corridor and that currently there are less than 1,000 means that we are losing jobs, competitiveness and opportunities for our economy”, he stated.