The long-awaited “fast train” of Extremadura begins to circulate through the region more than two decades after its announcement | Economy

22 years after the promise, Extremadura has a faster train starting this Thursday to reduce times between the main municipalities of the region and the capital of Spain. It will start operating on July 19, as announced this Thursday by the Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez, during an inaugural trip. No, it will not be an AVE, as was announced with great fanfare in 2000 by José María Aznar. From now on, yes, the improvement will only affect the route between Plasencia and Badajoz. In other words, the line that goes from the capital of Spain to Plasencia will continue to be conventional, with its usual drawbacks: without electrification and without double track. In general terms, the time reduction will be for those passengers who come from Madrid and make their way to Cáceres, Mérida and Badajoz. Not so until Plasencia, which will continue at the same times as always: three hours. The new train, therefore, will only run through Extremadura. There is no date yet for the improvement of Plasencia and Madrid, a key section between the two communities and that would drastically reduce times.

What benefits will the user have then? Those who start their journey at the Atocha station will now get off at the new Plasencia train station, get on the new Alvia and start their journey there again towards Cáceres, Mérida and Badajoz, faster than before thanks to the improvement of most of the roads. The so-called “fast train from Extremadura” will be a high-speed rail service that will reduce the journey with the capital of Spain by 50 minutes. 40 minutes between Monfragüe and Badajoz station; 25 minutes between Badajoz and Cáceres or 20 between Cáceres and Mérida. Undoubtedly, an improvement that is also added to the redesign and facelift of the Badajoz, Cáceres, Mérida and Plasencia stations. Renfe will put tickets on sale this Friday with a promotion of 30,000 between 18 and 22 euros for the coming months, as the newspaper has advanced Today Extremadura.

Roads not suitable for the AVE

However, the main shortcomings of this new service, which made its first trip this Thursday, are the routes on which it circulates. The train will continue to cross Iberian gauge tracks. These lines only work in Spain and Portugal and, therefore, do not allow the circulation of AVE trains. The trains that will circulate will not be new either, they have been in circulation throughout the country for 15 years, according to sources from the Ministry of Public Works.

Extremadura has a railway network of 725 kilometers. Until a few months ago, two train models circulated here—seven and 12 years old—which, only at some points, reached a top speed of 160 kilometers per hour. The average, according to data from the Government of Extremadura, was between 80 and 100. Until October 8, 2019, 15% of its sleepers were from the 19th century. Of wood. The oldest in Spain. “There is no explanation that this region lacks adequate infrastructure for the 21st century,” said the then president of the Railway Infrastructure Administration (Adif), Juan Bravo, in 2017. “Punctuality is conditioned to the characteristics of the infrastructures and they are insufficient”, added Ramón Azuara, at that time general director of Renfe Viajeros.

The journey between Madrid and Badajoz is one of the worst in Spain because it is mostly carried out on a medium-distance train. The last Talgo left Badajoz for Madrid in December 2010 with the promise that its regional substitute would improve the service. It was never like this. In fact, the Talgo returned in 2018, but only at a few points and once a day. In other words, until three years ago, Extremadura was the only region in Spain that did not have long-distance railways. There were also no Alvias: trains that can travel up to 250 kilometers per hour, with more comfortable seats, with a cafeteria, with a radio, with headphones, with televisions. Little pleasures that all users who make journeys of more than five hours opt for, except these. These are the trains that will begin to circulate from next July 19, but only between Plasencia and Badajoz. “On this line in Extremadura”, underline Fomento sources, “they will circulate, at the moment, at 180 kilometers per hour and not at maximum speed”.

Despite the new train, there is still no double track for the entire route. In this community of more than a million inhabitants in the southwest of Spain there is only one lane and, therefore, at some point in the journey the train that goes up and the one that goes down crosses, and one of the two has to stop at a station so that no accident occurs. A fact that continues to cause numerous delays, bus trips and cancellations. Also, along with Murcia, is the only one that still does not have electrified lines—more quality service—. The demand for improvements to the train reached such a point that nearly 40,000 people from Extremadura protested in the Plaza de España in Madrid on November 18, 2017, shouting “dignified train now”.

An unprecedented disconnect

The first isolation suffered by this region happened on New Year’s Eve 1984. That day Renfe closed the Plasencia-Salamanca-Astorga line. It forever disconnected the community from the north of Spain. Since then, if an Extremaduran wants to go to Salamanca by train, for example, he has to do it through Madrid. Since June 2015 these lanes are being dismantled to form a greenway: only for walkers and cyclists. Final goodbye to the utopian Resurrection of this section, despite the fact that different academic studies have recommended it again.

The second abandonment occurred in 2012. After 75 years, the Madrid-Lisbon train, known as Lusitania, stopped working. Today, the only international connection between Spain and Portugal joins the cities of Vigo and Porto. Traveling between the two capitals has a delay of 11 hours and four trains. And the third regional abandonment in Extremadura has been developing since 2000 with the promise of high speed. 22 years ago, Spain and Portugal agreed that the AVE would pass through the Extremaduran countryside. “There will be an AVE”, said Aznar in 2002. “Top priority”, said the then Minister of Public Works, Magdalena Álvarez (PSOE) in 2007. 2012 arrived and former president Monago (PP) coined the term fast train to replace the AVE . And 2013 came and the former minister of the branch, Ana Pastor, assured that it would be ready for 2015. Then for 2016. Then for 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Finally, it has been partial and in July 2022.

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