Monday, 27 March 2017

The Mediterranean Railway Corridor, a key, long-awaited infrastructure

CNA / Sara Prim

Barcelona (CNA).- The Spanish Government’s lack of investment in key infrastructures in Catalonia has in the Mediterranean Railway Corridor one of its most outstanding examples. This long-awaited piece of infrastructure is set to transport freight and passengers non-stop from Gibraltar to Central Europe along the Mediterranean coastline. However, despite being essential not only for the Spanish economy but for all of Europe, its construction has been repeatedly delayed. Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, assured that the infrastructure is regarded as an urgent need by the regional governments, such as those of Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Murcia, but lamented that the whole situation is “in stoppage time”. In the same vein, European Commission Spokesperson for Transport Jakub Adamowicz asked for “cooperation between all levels of administration”to “implement”the Corridor, as it is a “very important”infrastructure.

 

In addition, the delays in the construction of the Corridor are affecting private investment, the Catalan Government warned. According to Catalan Minister for Planning and Sustainability, Josep Rull, 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.

Consensus amongst the regional governments

Last May, Puigdemont celebrated the consensus that the construction of this infrastructure has amongst the members of the Strategic Board for the Mediterranean Railway Corridor and also amongst the regional governments involved in the construction, such as those of Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Murcia, the territories through which the Corridor is set to pass. He urged the Spanish government “to listen”to their demands and also to Europe’s warnings and promote the Corridor. “We are in stoppage time and this European warning confirms it,” he said.

A lack of political will

“The main problem is the lack of political will,” stated Vicente Boluda, president of the Valencian Association of Businessmen last February during a meeting which gathered together around 300 businessmen from Catalonia and Valencia. Joan JoséBrugera, 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 Spain’s population and wealth. 

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 Train 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 unfulfilled promises of former Spanish Minister for Public Works, Ana Pastor. “She promised that the temporary solution, a third track, would 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”.

The EU “has not been effective in enhancing rail freight transport”

The European Court of Auditors reported last May that “rail freight transport in the EU has failed to respond effectively over the last 15 years to the competition presented by road transport”. In their latest report, the Court pointed out that “the rail freight transport performance in the EU is persistently unsatisfactory in terms of modal share and volumes transported”. The document also stated that “the strategic and regulatory issues identified”are of such nature that “if not addressed, extra funding for rail infrastructure will not by itself resolve the problems identified and increase the competitiveness of rail freight transport”.

Therefore, the report recommends that “the Member States, together with the Commission, should improve the coordination of rail investments in order to maximize their effectiveness and keep the rail network from being developed in a piecemeal fashion”.

Cross-border section between Spain and France underused

Out of 18 projects selected by the Court for review, two are located on the rail freight corridor between Spain and France. The report stated that “the quantitative targets in terms of the number of freight trains and the tonnage of goods transported on this section”, which is still not completed, “are far from being achieved”. 

According to the European Court of Auditors, only 3% of total inland freight traffic between Spain and France, which amounts to around 90 million tons 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.

Puigdemont referred to these figures, which he described as “very eloquent”. “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.

The EC calls for “cooperation” between administrations

Spokesperson for Transport at the European Commission, Jakub Adamowicz, considered it “very important”to “implement”the Mediterranean Railway Corridor and called for “cooperation between all levels of administrations”. “We know that implementation of the Mediterranean Railway Corridor is very important and that it requires the cooperation of all levels of administration. If all the actors know what they have to do, then we could see progress,” he stated in an interview with CNA.

Adamowicz also played down the delay in its construction and assured that “building railways and roads can’t be done from one day to the next”and that it is necessary “to think in the long term”. “We are not worried because we have to regard it with a long-term perspective, the objective is 2030 and we are in 2016,” he concluded.

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