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The Minister of Infrastructures of Portugal: “It is unforgivable that the Portuguese and Spaniards are not dissolving the rail links”

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Pedro Nuno Santos (São João da Madeira, 45) has made rail investment a priority for Portugal’s territorial structure since arriving at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing in 2019, although decades of marginalization of the railroad simply don’t make it to turn the page so quickly. Dubbed as one of the possible successors of António Costa in the leadership of the Portuguese Socialists, he believes that the current harmony between the Iberian governments will make it possible to solve the bad rail links between the two countries, with two high-speed corridors as priority measures that Lisbon 2023 closer to Badajoz and 2030 Porto to Vigo. In the meantime, she proposes a direct train between Lisbon and Madrid via Fuentes de Oñoro (Salamanca).

Questions. How do you assess the current situation of the rail connections between Portugal and Spain?

Answer. Are bad. It’s a bit incomprehensible that these two neighbors have such fragile connections. Portugal and Spain are currently unable to offer rail travelers a good service at a time when all of Europe is striving to encourage the switch from cars to public transport. It is unforgivable that the Portuguese and Spanish cannot solve this common problem of cross-border connections.

P Where do the main political responsibilities lie in this regard?

R I prefer to speak of our responsibility.

P Don’t you want to criticize Spain?

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R I don’t want because my responsibility is over my country. In recent decades, Portugal broke away from railways and turned almost exclusively to highways, while Spain continued to invest in railways while investing in highways. If we don’t rely on the train within Portugal, we are less willing to work with Spain to promote the connection. So I don’t want to put the responsibility on our neighbors, but on ourselves. Fortunately, today we have a government that prioritizes the train and we can look at the future of the railway differently. We are focusing on what we can build with the Spanish government on different fronts to ensure these cross-border connections.

P And what are those fronts? For example, will a daily daily service between Lisbon and Madrid be restored?

R We had a church service [el tren nocturno Lusitania] that it was abandoned by the two companies Renfe and Comboios de Portugal; more at the initiative of Renfe, who has shown no interest in recovering. This operation was flawed. We are interested in resuming it but we have no one to tow the trains on the Spanish side.

P Renfe has abolished night traffic.

R Which are now beginning to be recovered in Europe. Of course, we also want the service not to be a budgetary burden for the two companies as it has been up to now. But first, let’s talk about the infrastructure. Work is underway on the southern corridor between Lisbon and Badajoz, which when completed in December 2023 will allow average speeds of 250 kilometers per hour. On the Spanish side, work is being done on the route between Badajoz and Plasencia, but electrification has not been done, it will be until 2023. We will not have a good speed link between Lisbon and Madrid until Spain trades between Plasencia and Madrid and that stretch is much further back. When everything is ready, the journey between Lisbon and Madrid can be reduced to four and a half hours. Our next big priority is the cross-border connection between Portugal and Galicia due to the close economic and social ties we have. At this point, the joint work of Infraestructuras de Portugal and Adif has started to study the technical solutions of the project between Vigo and Porto. If all goes well, Vigo will be connected to Lisbon at high speed in 2030. As a cross-border link located in the trans-European corridors, we will submit a joint application to opt for funding of up to 50% [fondo Connecting Europe Facility].

P When is this application made?

R We don’t know if we will have the project ready to apply for this community table (2021-2027) or if it needs to be included in the next one. Then there is a third connection between Aveiro, Salamanca and Madrid, which is very important for us because it allows us to bring all the center and north of Portugal closer to Madrid. The trip from Porto to Madrid would take three and a half hours. This investment is in our plans for 2040. The Spanish side gave up investing in the section for a while, although eventually accepting to reintroduce it into the Trans-European Corridor and committing to an investment to move 200 km/h from the border reach to Madrid. There is a fourth link which is not high speed and is not part of Spain’s plans. It is the union of the Algarve with Huelva. We had one 30 years ago, but Spain raised the rails almost three decades ago. The Autonomous Government of Andalusia is very favorable. We have raised it at several Iberian summits and we have not yet been able to get Spain to include this link in its railway planning, but we have hope. It is a very important line to unite southern Spain and southern Portugal and connect us to the Mediterranean Corridor.

P And the services?

R When we have these infrastructures in place, we are convinced that the commercial service will be interesting for the different rail operators and the relationship between the two countries will be more interesting in terms of travel times and comfort. Until then, it would be important to have something, even if it’s not the ideal service. We are not unaware that today’s rail travel time between Spain and Portugal is not attractive and people are fleeing from it. Infrastructure is a problem, but until it’s resolved we’d like a service, whatever it is. We stand ready to work with Renfe on a solution that does not burden operators’ budgets, although we believe that these cross-border connections are also justified by their public service remit. Therefore, the two companies should be supported to ensure the viability of this connection between Lisbon and Madrid from Vilar Formoso and Fuentes de Oñoro. Once we have the Lisbon-Madrid high-speed infrastructure via Badajoz it will be easier, but although we don’t have it we would like to have a connection where it is possible, namely via Vilar Formoso.

P Is there any prognosis to improve Celtic Train immediately?

R Nothing is currently planned. On the Portuguese side we have electrified the Miño line but we need a new line to have a different service between Vigo and Porto.

P What will they put on the table at the next Iberian summit?

R We want Spain to move faster in the connection with Vilar Formoso and we confirm that everything is moving forward between Vigo and Porto. The one with the Algarve is the only link the Spaniards have not yet committed to. The corridor to Spain from Sines, one of the largest ports in Europe, had to be managed. Originally it was only planned for goods and we decided to carry out an intervention so that people can be transported, but this does not break the connection of the population, which is in a straight line with Madrid. We want to connect Portugal to Spain, which is different than just connecting Lisbon to Madrid.

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