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Tuesday 16 November 2010

Making A Start

Cuts. Countries across Europe are doing them. Austerity is the new watchword. But when economies recover, the demand for goods and services will return. And those services include travel – better and faster travel. In mainland Europe, and maybe in the UK, that means the growth of high speed rail links.

Yes, it’s one of those counter intuitive moves – carrying on with construction projects, even though times are bad, because by the time you’re finished, those times are predicted to have improved again. In London, that means completing Crossrail.

In Spain, it means keeping on with rolling programmes of rail infrastructure improvements, and maintaining the schedule of building high speed lines: the cross city tunnel in Barcelona is “in progress”, and the new line from Madrid to Valencia opens next month.

But next door in Portugal, the financial squeeze has been if anything more severe: the Third Tagus Crossing has been put on indefinite hold, and high speed links from Lisbon north to Porto and beyond are also on ice. But the first part of the high speed jigsaw will be going ahead, it was announced yesterday.

Public Works minister Antonio Mendonca told Parliament that the line from the Spanish border at Caia, to Poceirão, will begin construction next year as planned. As I noted recently, having the new line’s endpoint well out of Lisbon need not necessarily stop the introduction of high speed services, given the availability of variable gauge technology.

And by the time that new line is in service, maybe the will and the funds will be there for that Third Tagus Crossing, and hence the next piece of the jigsaw. One step at a time – and, of course, you have to make a start first.

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