Friday, May 04, 2012

The Train In Spain

With regard to railways, Spain was, relative to Britain, a late starter. When the first Spanish line opened in 1848, the British had already been operating trains for 23 years. The inaugural track stretched a mere 20 miles, along the Catalan coast from Barcelona to Mataró. Today, Spain’s total route length is comparable with Britain’s, and Mariano Rajoy’s PP government aims to link all the provincial capitals with high-speed services by 2020. More about that pipe dream later.

I have loved trains and rail travel since my undergraduate days of the late 1980s. As an Englishman studying at a Scottish university, life consisted of lectures, hangovers and going back and forth across the Forth Bridge. Rail journeys are a daydreamer’s paradise. Try gazing at the passing scenery or closing your eyes for a moment while driving a car – or rather, don’t. Since then, I have sampled ‘the glorious and the unknown’ by train in every continent of the world (Figure 41.1). There is not one trip I regret having made.

Figure 41.1: On the rails (and off them) for 15 years

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

Back to Spain in 2o12. The economic outlook is becoming more apocalyptic by the day. 1 in 4 Spaniards are unemployed (Figure 41.2); the yield on 10-year government bonds has just risen to 6.1%; and the national debt will breach the 702 billion mark before I complete this paragraph. The only route to national economic salvation appears to be sharp currency devaluation, but this is precluded by Spain’s continuing membership of the terminally-stricken Eurozone. The current political strategy certainly feeds the vanity of the EU hierarchy but is callously destroying people’s lives. Some traders have recently reverted to the peseta, in desperation as much as in patriotic protest. More will surely rebel in the near future.

Figure 41.2: Unemployment in Spain now stands at unprecedented levels.

Copyright © 2012 The Olive Press

Countless politicians and commentators, not just in Spain, are now urging governments to invest billions in huge infrastructure projects, including railways, in an attempt to stimulate a return to economic health. This is frequently a sensible, far-sighted policy – but only if the coffers are full. With such stupendous debt levels, however, it makes me wonder where such advocates think the money would come from. Trying to borrow one’s way out of de facto insolvency is beyond absurd. (If you do not believe me, suggest it to a bank manager.)

A sad consequence of the recession is the shelving of a plan to extend what is a beautiful railway along the Mediterranean Corridor from Alicante, via Málaga, to San Roque (Figure 41.3). The need for 40 new tunnels along the proposed route has probably contributed to the decision. I have travelled on the so-called ‘Euromed’ several times, and parts of it are a traveller’s dream.

Figure 41.3: The ‘Euromed’ service, travelling north along Spain’s stunning east coast

Copyright © 2009 Sergio Moreno Pillo

The ultimate goal is a continuous route from Algeciras all the way up the coast to Barcelona, some 500 miles plus. At present, Spain’s rail network is radial, with Madrid as the central connection point (Figure 41.4). Any journey from Andalucía to Barcelona, therefore, involves an arduous detour via the capital. The lack of funding for the project will mean, among other things, that Marbella will be the only Spanish town with a population greater than 100,000 without access to the railway.

Figure 41.4: The red and blue lines show the proposed high-speed rail route

Copyright © 2012 El Gobierno de España

The completion of el corredor mediterráneo would provide an enormous economic boost to the entire south coast. A noble idea, but I do not expect it will progress beyond the drawing board any time soon.

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

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