After checking out of the residencial this morning – not totally straightforward, as the card reading device had to be kicked to get it to work – I had a few photos to take in and around Lisbon and then it was time to head for Gare Oriente for the train back to Albufeira. Oriente is one legacy from the 1998 Expo, and is memorable for its spectacular and delicate looking overall roof. Fortunately it also has waiting areas below the otherwise bare looking platforms, although the toilets, which still look as temporary as they did back in 2001, are routinely disgusting.
The train’s First Class was almost full, many of them British expats or visitors, and we not only left on time, but remained on time all the way: at Funcheira we even had to wait time, and there was enough in hand for the wait at Luzianes for the northbound Alfa Pendular for it not to matter. All this, despite there being an irritatingly noticeable number of temporary speed restrictions, one or two to just 30 km/h. This is a lesson that the coach operators could learn from: most of the rail route is single track, so it’s important for the schedule to be as robust as possible.
Even so, the Intercidade is nothing like as fast as the coach, for a number of reasons: the coaches post over-optimistic schedules which in my experience they can’t maintain, the motorway is straight, and is also shorter by quite a way. Why should that be? The railway was built long enough ago, and to what appears to have been a limited budget, so there are lots of twists and turns: these slow the speed, and add to the distance. But improvements are on the way: a cut off line is under construction on part of the route, and a new river crossing is almost complete.
The new route will be faster, it will add capacity – many more trains right now would cause operational problems – and it will cut several kilometres off the distance. But it could be bad news for the ancient town of Alcácer do Sal, which is bypassed by the cut off.