Tuesday, 08 January 2013

The last High Speed railway stretch between Barcelona and France has finally been unveiled after years of delays

CNA

Barcelona (ACN).- On Tuesday morning, the last stretch of the High Speed railway linking Barcelona and France was finally unveiled and will be in service as from tomorrow. The Spanish Government has finally finished the construction work and circulation tests on the last 131-kilometre stretch of this essential piece of infrastructure. However the direct connection between the Catalan capital and France will still have to wait until April, as during the next three months passengers will have to switch trains at Figueres if they want to continue to Perpignan. This infrastructure arrives almost 21 years after the first High Speed Train line in Spain was unveiled and after 2,900 kilometres of railroad have already been put into service, making it the world’s second largest network after China’s. From now on, Spain will finally be connected by High Speed Train to the rest of Europe. Furthermore, the four Catalan capitals – Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona – are linked between themselves. Passengers will be able to travel from Barcelona to Girona in only 37 minutes and to Figueres in a total of 53 minutes. Furthermore, 10-journey tickets will be issued for daily passengers which mean that the rides will cost €6.91 and €8.89 respectively, although they will be more expensive for occasional travellers.

Spain’s Crown Prince, Felipe de Borbón, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, and many other politicians gathered to unveil the infrastructure with a trip from the Catalan capital to Figueres, without stopping at Girona. Later, they have returned to Girona, where the official ceremony took place. The Catalan President lamented that Catalonia, despite being the Autonomous Community “that contributes the most” to Spain’s finances, “has the smallest amount of public infrastructures” compared to the rest of the territories. Therefore, Mas emphasised that this High Speed train line is “an act of justice” and he emphasised that the Mediterranean Railway Corridor is “still pending”. The Crown Prince, who gave half of his speech in Catalan, praised this infrastructure as “a symbol of progress, effectiveness and improvement”. The Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, stated that “railways are seams” able “to bring the most diverse territories closer to the benefit of a shared will”. He also added that “only the ways of understanding that make us come closer […] can bring us further on”.

The first High Speed Train linking Barcelona and Figueres arrived 47 minutes after having left Barcelona Sants Station, in the Catalan capital. The train covered a distance of 131 kilometres and it reached a maximum speed of 290 km/h a few minutes before arriving in Figueres. The train was transporting the Heir to the Spanish throne, the Spanish Prime Minister, the Catalan President, the Spanish and Catalan Ministers for Transport, the Mayor of Barcelona and many other public figures, as well as a group of journalists. Normally, the trip between these two cities will last 53 minutes but this time it was shorter since the train did not stop in Girona. After a plaque was unveiled at Figueres-Vilafant station, the train returned to Girona for the official ceremony.

The first time Rajoy and Mas have met after September’s clash

This trip was the first time that the Spanish PM and the Catalan President have seen each other after September the 20th, when Rajoy closed the door on the Catalan claims for a specific fiscal agreement with Spain. After that meeting, Mas defended the need to build a Catalan state and he called for earlier elections, which were clearly won by the parties supporting Catalonia’s self-determination. On Tuesday, Rajoy and Mas met at Barcelona Sants Station, while they were waiting for the arrival of Prince Felipe. Both leaders exchanged a few words and there was a cold atmosphere, and Mas mostly talked with the Spanish Minister for Transport, Ana Pastor. During the trip, Rajoy, Mas, Pastor and the Crown Prince were all sitting around the same table inside the train wagon, having an apparently relaxed conversation. The messages were kept for later, at the official ceremony.

Catalonia, “the Autonomous Community with the smallest amount of public infrastructures”

The President of the Catalan Government celebrated the High Speed Train between Barcelona and Figueres passing through Girona. However, he took the occasion “to be pedagogical”. Mas emphasised that despite today’s opening ceremony, “Catalonia, despite being the territory that contributes the most to Spain [the economy and public finances] and with 30 years of democracy, is instead the Autonomous Community with the smallest amount of public infrastructures”, which should be funded by the Spanish Government. However, “it is true that it [lack of infrastructures] is compensated by private infrastructures”, he admitted. In fact, Mas emphasised that this infrastructure is “an act of justice”. Furthermore, he noted that the Mediterranean Railway Corridor, linking Central Europe with Gibraltar along Spain’s Mediterranean shore by High Speed and freight railway, is “still pending”. Consequently, he emphasised that when “resources are so scarce”, investments need to be made strategically, setting clear priorities, “where they can be recovered and have a social and economic performance”.

Catalonia needs to find “market unity” at a European level, going beyond the “traditional states”

In addition, Mas underlined that the High Speed Train is an historical aspiration of the Catalan society, showing its “European vocation”. For Catalonia this sort of transport connection is a way to strengthen its “European integration”, said Mas, reaffirming “the leading role that Catalonia has played in the South of Europe regarding European integration”. At this point, Mas sent a message to Rajoy and the Spanish Government’s centralist policies. According to the Catalan President, infrastructures such as the High Speed Train work “for a market unity at a European level”, “the direction Catalonia is looking in”. Catalonia needs to find this market unity in “a European dimension” and not look for it within the “traditional states”, such as Spain.

Rajoy: Railways are “seams” that “bring the most diverse territories closer to the benefit of a shared will”

The Spanish Prime Minister stressed that such infrastructures are “ways of understanding that bring us closer”, in a clear reference to Spanish unity. Rajoy stated that railways are “seams” that are able to “bring the most diverse territories closer to the benefit of a shared will”. He also stated that such infrastructures, built “in such an adverse budget scenario”, “show the political will to prioritise such a vital infrastructure for Catalonia”. He also emphasised that the Spanish Government has invested €3.7 billion, 72% of which were European funds. He also said that Catalonia will be the first Autonomous Community to have all its province capitals connected between themselves. He forgot that the five province capitals of Castilla-la-Mancha have all been served by High Speed Train since 2010, although some were already being served in 1992. Nor he mentioned that the High speed Train linking Madrid, Barcelona and the French border is a project that was firstly approved in 1988.

2,900 kilometres of High Speed railway have been unveiled earlier than the connection with France

In fact, the High Speed Railway connection between Barcelona and the French border, which will be fully operational next April, will arrive almost 21 years after the first High Speed Trains started to circulate in Spain. In April 1992, the Madrid-Seville line was unveiled. Furthermore, High Speed Trains only arrived in Barcelona in 2008, but they could not go any further until this week. In fact, in these 21 years, 2,900 kilometres of High Speed railway had already been put into service throughout Spain prior to the stretch unveiled on Tuesday. The Spanish Government prioritised connecting Andalucia with Madrid and it designed a radial network where all the lines departed out from Madrid, neglecting connections along the Mediterranean shore, the Atlantic coast or the Pyrenees. The connection with the French border was not a priority, neither was the connection between Barcelona and València, Spain’s second and third largest cities. The High Speed Train between Barcelona and València will not be operational until 2016 and right now the regular railway connecting these two cities has some stretches with just one track of rails, which means that trains can only circulate in one direction.

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  • The first AVE train connecting Barcelona, Girona and Figueres (by J. Pujolar)