The gauge that connects Portugal to Europe
What is planned for the Portuguese railroad will take time to impact Portuguese society, but the trajectory that Pedro Nuno Santos designed will not go backwards. After the subprime crisis, in the now distant 2016, the country found that disinvestment in the railways had exceeded the most pessimistic expectations. Compared to the investment in the road, which placed Portugal at the forefront of European countries in this matter, the railway was practically accommodated by the government, placing the country at the tail of Europe, with serious consequences for the mobility of citizens, for combating climate change, but also for the Portuguese economy, whether in terms of industry or freight transport. Today expectations are very different.
The path is being taken slowly, with a medium and long-term strategy, and with consistency. The railway program 2020, budgeted at more than 2000 million euros, is being completed, allowing to normalize the Portuguese railway map with investments requested for many years, from electrification of lines, requalification of others or even acquisition or requalification of trains. The international corridors: North-South between Nine and Valença concluded; North – Beira Baixa Line between Covilhã and Guarda concluded; North – Beira Alta Line between Pampilhosa and Guarda and Guarda under construction; South between Évora and Elvas under construction.
But the future is to reinforce this contribution. The National Investment Plan foresees an extraordinary investment of more than 8,800 million euros to allow Portugal to match the best we have in Europe. High-speed lines and connections to Europe, whether for goods or passengers, will be a new reality in the coming years.
In 2023, the first tenders will be launched for the construction of the Porto/Lisbon high-speed line and tenders will be awarded for 117 new electric railcars, as well as the launch of tenders for 12 new high-speed trains. For the first time in Portugal, the government assured, in the terms of reference, that the supply of trains required the construction of a factory in Portugal, materializing the design of the Portuguese train!
After doubts about gauge issues had been overcome and it had been demonstrated that it was possible to take advantage of carriages and railcars, escaped almost by carelessness, and that the workshops should be restored as well as investment in R&D to make Portugal a center of attraction for investment, the landscape of the sector has changed.
As the seeds are sown, funding is secured, now it’s time to execute. The new Ministry of Infrastructure has this decisive role. Run, run and run. It is very important that you do not go back on these decisions.
In this context, I listened with astonishment one of these days to a television debate on the National Railway Plan. The last serious plan was designed in 1930 and, in addition, another recent one is known, during the troika, but it was not an official plan for the Portuguese railway, but an attempt to destroy what little that existed. In addition to the clumsy attempts to destroy confidence in the plan designed by this government, much of the debate was centered on the old gauge controversy. The confusion was immense and the ignorance of the subject was almost atrocious. One of the protagonists was Mira Amaral, who defended the thesis that investments in the railroad suffer from an irreversible error: they are planned for the Iberian gauge and that, according to him, will cause the country to be isolated in terms of goods transport. Now, this must be categorically denied. On the border with Spain, the two corridors on the Spanish side that connect to Portugal are built in Iberian gauge. If Portugal decided on the European gauge to connect Spain, it would be transforming itself into a transmission island in Europe. Moreover, the country does not have a single train to operate European gauge and acquiring one would take about 7 years.
A little more rigor was relevant and, by the way, some contradiction would not be insignificant.
Vice-President of the PS Parliamentary Group