The residents of the Cadiz town of San Fernando are already accustomed to the fact that the coming and going of the tram is part of the usual landscape of Calle Real, the main street in the city. It is different to ask them if they think that, finally, they will be able to use it. “It seems that this time it will be the definitive one,” laughs Pepe Aroca, spokesman for the platform of associations in favor of public transport Conexión Bahía. Aroca’s cautious illusion is not without reason. The Bahía de Cádiz tramway will be inaugurated on a date to be determined this summer, after almost 20 years of work and ten years late with respect to the first date provided. The tortuous path for the construction of 14 kilometers of roads that will link Chiclana, San Fernando and Cádiz has cost more than 267 million, almost double the first budget announced at the beginning.
In these two decades, the TRAMBahía (according to its recently approved commercial name) has faced work stoppages, fights between administrations, court rulings against it —accounts for the expropriation of some land—, the change in the political color of the Board itself and even to the uncertainty of whether it could transit through part of the railway tracks originally planned. So many obstacles have turned the tramway into such an uncomfortable photo that even the deputy minister of the Ministry of Public Works, Infrastructure and Territory Planning, Mario Muñoz-Atanet, acknowledges that “the feeling” they have with this project is that “people don’t even know believe it”. And, just in case, the politician avoids committing to a specific inauguration date and only points out that it will be “this summer when it will be put into service.”
When that happens, the TRAMBahía will become the first train-tram in Spain to travel part of its route —10 of the total 24 kilometers of route— on a railway line that also runs medium and long-distance commuter trains. You have to go to other parts of Europe, such as Germany (Karlsruhe and Bassel) or England (Manchester) to find other similar examples, as pointed out by the Ministry. This hybrid nature is what, precisely, has meant an added bonus of tortuosity in the project, as it required a specific agreement with the Ministry of Transport and the adaptation to the regulations on rail safety that apply to the conventional railway. “It is complex, pioneering in Spain, but it is also true that it has been delayed,” explains Muñoz-Atanet.
The first step for the Bahía de Cádiz tramway was taken in 2003, with the preparation of the first studies carried out by the then socialist Junta de Andalucía. The first works did not begin until 2006, which were initially announced with a budget of 140 million euros, not including rolling stock. At that time, the political leaders of the time set the commissioning date for 2012. But the will was not enough “and the work did not advance”, recalls the deputy minister, then outside the project. The inauguration announcements —seasoned with photos and trips to the press— have happened over the years, despite long stoppages, such as the one suffered in 2016. “When we arrived in 2019, 25 contracts were missing to complete the commissioning, an investment of 31.5 million, plus 31 million more of rolling stock”, details Muñoz-Atanet.
The delays have been so notorious and, at times, so inexplicable, that the Junta de Andalucía was about to have to return part of the 49 million euros it received from the European Union. Meanwhile, the towns affected by the paralysis got used to living with a landscape of works, first, and with streets and roads prepared with catenaries, tracks, stops and signs, but without trams, later. “We have not reached the case of Jaén —there the works were stopped due to political fights—, but in the case of Cádiz it has been a long time: economic, political and social problems. Finally, that has been overcome. We are looking forward to it starting up”, explains Aroca.
The day that the TRAMBahía begins to accept the first passengers, it will have a direct impact on 234,000 potential users, residing within 1,000 meters of one of the 21 stops and stations. The tour will take approximately 35 minutes to travel a complete route through the central streets of Chiclana and San Fernando, before ending at the Cádiz train station. In addition, the new means of transport will be integrated into a Consortium that already manages buses, catamarans (between the capital, El Puerto de Santa María and Rota), bicycles and where, since June 1, the rates have been integrated with the Cercanías. “We estimate a demand of three million travelers a year. The consortium now has five million”, points out the deputy minister. Aroca, a railway worker by profession, is also optimistic and believes that he will be “a success of mobility”. “It’s going to take a lot of private transportation off the streets,” he adds.
The slow pace of development of the first line of the TRAMBahía has raised doubts about the construction of the second route, which should give the project its full meaning, by connecting the route already built in the south with the towns located in the northeast: Puerto Real, El Puerto de Santa María, Jerez de la Frontera and the provincial airport of La Parra (connected with the capital by the Cercanías that also passes through San Fernando). To make this new phase a reality, a greater width was even built on the deck of the new Constitución de 1812 bridge, inaugurated in 2015. However, Muñoz-Atanet does not clarify whether the Board will complete the initial idea that the tram would carry to the more than 630,000 inhabitants who live in all the aforementioned locations in the bay: “Our idea is to put it into service and evaluate its benefits. See how demand evolves. We don’t have to rule anything out, if the model works.”