Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Next Train May Not Stop In Lisbon

Spain has become an issue in the Portuguese general election campaign following the pledge by the right wing candidate to stop the planned high speed rail links between Lisbon and Spain's expanding AVE network. The idea is that high speed train lines should enter Portugal both from Badajoz and Vigo. The Portuguese right were in power when the plan was initially approved but now seem to have decided to stir up a bit of anti-Spanish sentiment in the campaign by presenting the train plan as a Spanish imposition. Maybe they are obeying the saying that only bad winds and bad marriages come from Spain, or perhaps they are just keen to show that Spain doesn't have an Iberian monopoly on crazed nationalist right wingers. In reality the plan would plug Portugal into the emerging European high speed network rather than place them under Spanish domination. The first time I ever travelled to Portugal I went by train from London to Oporto and the journey took me around 36 hours. There are some who don't like to travel so slowly, although perhaps they should try it sometime.

Not everyone in Portugal thinks the same about their neighbours. A poll that was reported on a few weeks ago showed that 39% of the Portuguese would be prepared to consider a union with Spain. Whilst quite a few Spanish tend to smugly assume that this means the Portuguese just want to join Spain, the reality is probably that those in favour would prefer some sort of federation rather than just adding 5 or 6 new autonomous comunidades to those that already exist. There is a widespread feeling in Portugal that the country somehow missed the boat and lost out on many of the benefits of EU membership compared to Spain. Then there has been the unequal economic performance with Spanish companies dominating sectors of the Portuguese market, although that gap may well be closing now that Spain has become the land of the bankrupt builder. Leaving to one side some of the incidental details, such as 39% not normally being regarded as a majority, it's worth thinking about what shape such a union might take. Portugal is a republic, something that is to its credit. How would the Portuguese take to coming under a Spanish king - again? In any case, according to my 21st Century calculations monarchy + republic = republic. Then imagine how Madrid's loony right would react to Lisbon's children being educated in, gasp, Portuguese! If such a project ever took off it would probably be the spur to Spain finally becoming a federal state. Anyone for the Federal Republic of Iberia?


Josep said...

Well, if such merger/absorption ever occurs, those seeking Catalan independence will have to drop our current battlecry : "L'autonomia que ens cal, és la de Portugal" (It's Portugal's 'autonomia' that we need)

John no name said...

As you say, Graeme, there would surely be an uprising in the Spanish heartlands, egged on by our friends at El Mundo and LD, against those traitorous Portugaloonies insisting on teaching their children in their own language, speaking it openly in public, putting shop signs up in it, opening conversations in it, requiring people to have knowledge of it in order to work in the civil service, and having television stations broadcasting exclusively in it. They should of course accept that it is a language spoken by fewer people that must consequently be progressively phased out in favour of Cristiano (not Ronaldo).

Graeme said...


It would be a shame to lose it, its quite a catchy slogan. On the other hand there would be no need any more for such sentiments in the FRI.


I think most of those who would protest would already have been admitted to Urgencias with a heart attack following the proclamation of the Iberian republic. Either that or they would have opted for voluntary exile.

Troy said...

Right-wing loons aside, I can completely understand why the Portuguese are a bit unsure regarding the AVE. The idea is to have a fast link with Madrid and thus Europe.

However, a look at the plans here in Extremadura make that 'fast link' a whole lot slower. Draw a straight line from Madrid to Lisbon and you will see that it wouldn't pass through any major centres.

So they had at first decided to have it stop in Caceres and Badajoz. A bit out of the way, especially in the latter, but... Then of course the bigwigs in Merida (the capital) thought it should stop there in between, again another detour.

Not to be outdone, Plasencia (anyone who has taken the train out here to Caceres knows how far out of the way that takes you) and Navalmoral are now clamouring for it to stop there and even small little Coria would like to stop there.

All these stops and detours would definitely slow down their beloved AVE.

Personally I hope it never comes about if it means that the existing connections will get even worse and they will stop all regular (read affordable) trains between the capital and Extremadura as they did with the Madrid-Barcelona line. Thus forcing us mileuristas onto the shrinking bus service or as they would surely love, buy a bloody car.

Graeme said...

I understand your argument Troy, the projected routes of other lines in Spain have also been changed as towns campaign to be included. Cuenca ran a very active one. The problem is not high speed train travel itself, but the way in which it is being used as a pretext for removing other services. I have mixed feelings about the AVE because I really enjoy being able to get to Cordoba in less than 2 hours by train, or to Barcelona in 3. I'm also looking forward to the day when Madrid-London will become possible in a single day. Maybe in Extremadura they could do 2 lines, one straight line from Badajoz to Madrid and another that serves the other towns.

ejh said...

There are similar issues involving the currently non-existent train route through Canfranc, which is not making a great deal of progress, a delay largely attributed in my part of the world to France. There may actually be some truth to this but there may also be a tendency to overlook a couple of important things, these being

(a) there's not a lot in it for France anyway

(b) nobody who wants to get to Spain from Northern Europe really needs to go via the Pyrenees and Aragón.

Nevertheless we do actually have an AVE terminal in Huesca. (Or "tiny Huesca" as Giles Tremlett curiously put it in the Guardian not very long ago.) I don't know what degree of politicking its creation involved (it was here when I arrived) but presumably considerable?

Troy said...

I can totally understand the secret guilt that most have regarding the AVE. Hell, if you can afford it, beats bumping along in the bus while the kids blast their freaking mobiles.

Like you mention, the real problem is the secrecy involved when all of a sudden all the other services disappear! Something the Guardian's man failed to mention while gushing over the train.

But all of this could definitely be explored elsewhere, especially the elephant in the room, meaning the fact that the existing Spanish technology (the TALGO train) can actually reach up to 200+kms an hour with only slight modifications to existing tracks.