Pedro Nuno Santos (São João da Madeira, 45 years old) has made investment in the railway a priority for the territorial structure of Portugal since he arrived at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing in 2019, although the decades of railway marginalization do not make it easy to turn the page so Quick. Pointed out 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 resolve the poor rail links between the two countries, with two high-speed corridors as priority actions that will bring Lisbon closer to Badajoz in 2023 and Porto to Vigo in 2030. Meanwhile, it proposes a direct train between Lisbon and Madrid via Fuentes de Oñoro (Salamanca).
Ask. How do you rate the current situation of the rail connections between Portugal and Spain?
Response. Are bad. It is a bit incomprehensible that these two neighbors have such fragile connections. At the moment, Portugal and Spain are unable to offer train passengers a good service at a time when the whole of Europe is committed to promoting the transfer from the automobile to collective transport. It is inexcusable that the Portuguese and Spanish cannot resolve this common problem of cross-border connections.
P. Where are the main political responsibilities on this?
R. I prefer to talk about our responsibility.
P. Don’t you want to criticize Spain?
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R. I don’t want to, because my responsibility is over my country. In the last decades, Portugal divestd from the railway and turned almost exclusively to the highway, while Spain did not stop investing in the train while investing in highways. If we do not bet on the train within Portugal, we are less prepared to work with Spain to promote the connection. That is why I do not want to point responsibilities towards our neighbor, but towards ourselves. Fortunately, today we have a government that prioritizes the train and we can look at the railway future in a different way. We are focused on what we can build with the Spanish Government on different fronts to guarantee these cross-border connections.
P. And what are those fronts? Will a daily daytime connection between Lisbon and Madrid, for example, be recovered?
R. we had a service [el tren nocturno Lusitania] that it was abandoned by the two companies, Renfe and Comboios de Portugal; more on the initiative of Renfe, which has shown no interest in recovering it. That operation was deficient. We are interested in taking it up again, but we have no one to tow the trains on the Spanish side.
P. Renfe has eliminated night services.
R. Which are now beginning to be recovered in Europe. Obviously, we also want the service not to be a budget burden for the two companies as it was before. But let’s talk about infrastructure first. Work is underway on the southern corridor linking Lisbon to Badajoz, which will allow average speeds of 250 kilometers/hour when it is completed in December 2023. On the Spanish side, work is being done on the line between Badajoz and Plasencia, although the electrification has not it will be until 2023. We will not have a connection with good speed between Lisbon and Madrid until Spain does not act between Plasencia and Madrid, and that section is much further behind. When everything is finished, the trip between Lisbon and Madrid can be reduced to four and a half hours. Our next great priority is the cross-border connection between Portugal and Galicia due to the close economic and social relationship we have. At this time, joint work between Infraestructuras de Portugal and Adif has begun to study the technical solutions of the project between Vigo and Porto. In 2030, if all goes well, Vigo will be linked by high speed with Lisbon. Being a cross-border connection that is in the trans-European corridors, we are going to present a joint application to opt for financing of up to 50% of the [fondo Connecting Europe Facility].
P. When is this application submitted?
R. We do not know if we will have the project ready to apply for this community table (2021-2027) or it will have to be in the next one. Then there is a third connection between Aveiro, Salamanca and Madrid, which is very important for us because it will allow us to bring the entire center and north of Portugal closer to Madrid. The journey 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 it was finally accepted to reintroduce it in the trans-European corridor and commit to an investment to reach 200 kilometers per hour from the border to Madrid. There is a fourth connection that is not high speed and is not part of Spain’s plans. It is the union of the Algarve with Huelva. We already had one 30 years ago, but Spain raised the tracks almost three decades ago. The Autonomous Government of Andalusia is very favorable. In several Iberian summits we have raised it and we have not yet managed to get Spain to include this connection in its railway planning, but we have hope. It is a very important line to unite the south of Spain and the south of 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 of interest to the different rail operators and the relationship between the two countries will be more interesting from the point of view of travel times and comfort. Until you get there, it would be important to have something, even if it is not the ideal service. We are not unaware that rail travel time today between Spain and Portugal is not attractive and therefore people flee from it. The infrastructure is a problem, but while it is not resolved we would like to have a service, whatever it might be. We are available to work with Renfe on a solution that is not a budget burden for the operators, although we consider that these cross-border connections are also justified by their public service vocation. Therefore, the two companies should be supported to guarantee the viability of this connection between Lisbon and Madrid by Vilar Formoso and Fuentes de Oñoro. As soon as we have the Lisbon-Madrid high-speed infrastructure through Badajoz, it will be easier, but while we don’t have it, we would like to have a service through where it is possible, which is through Vilar Formoso.
P. Is there any forecast to improve the Celtic Train immediately?
R. Nothing is planned at this time. On the Portuguese side we 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 advance faster in the connection with Vilar Formoso and confirm that everything is progressing between Vigo and Porto. The one with the Algarve is the only connection that the Spaniards have not yet committed to making. The corridor to Spain from Sines, one of the largest ports in Europe, had to be done. Initially, it was planned only for goods and we have decided to carry out an intervention so that passengers can be transported, but this does not solve the connection of the population that is in a straight line with Madrid. We want to connect Portugal to Spain, which is something different from just connecting Lisbon to Madrid.
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