Portugal: Spanish region calls for better domestic, cross-border train links

The Spanish Extremadura region celebrated the day of its autonomy on Thursday, calling for investment in railways to stop being an “isolated” and “invisible” region and to be connected to the rest of Spain and Portugal by train.

It was 20 years ago that Extremadura, the region bordering Portugal’s Beira Interior and Alentejo regions, heard the first promise of high-speed links (AVE) to Madrid and Lisbon that would pass through the region.

The promise of high speed was not fulfilled. In parallel, there was a degradation of the conventional lines and connections, with the suspension of connections and deactivation of some sections.

Today there are no trains between Lisbon and Madrid, high speed or any other type (neither in Extremadura, passing through Elvas and Badajoz, nor in Castilla y León, passing through Vilar Formoso and Fuentes de Oñoro).

Already the connections of Extremadura to the Spanish regions to the south are “very few”, and “the route is cut” that would allow the connection to northern Spain and the rail network in France and the rest of Europe, a spokesman for the platform of associations calling for a “decent train” to Extremadura, José María González, told Lusa. Today they brought together hundreds of people in Madrid, outside the Congress (parliament), where they delivered a new petition with demands.

“What kind of democracy is this that isolates people”, making “one of its regions invisible, and on top of that, one that is close to Portugal”, that also cuts off its links to the south and north of the country and Europe, and that has allowed “the deterioration of the traditional train” within Extremadura, which until a few years ago ran on 19th century stretches “at 19 kilometres an hour?”, he asked, speaking to Lusa.

The link between Madrid and Badajoz has had a 150-kilometre section, between Plasencia and Badajoz, of “fast train”, which is not high speed, since July while the rest of the route continues to operate a traditional link, with work in progress on the ground in one part and studies being carried out for intervention in the remaining part.

Spanish Transport Minister Raquel Sánchez said last week that by the end of 2023, work should be completed on the Portuguese and Spanish sides to allow a “dignified and quality” train link between Lisbon and Madrid.

Today’s rally in Madrid and other protests and demands made in Extremadura come precisely after the inauguration of the 150-kilometre section of the fast train in July.

The government said it was “the first milestone of high speed in Extremadura”, but for the region’s inhabitants, it was “a joke” and “a new scam” because the work was not finished – which was confirmed in the following days, with disruptions and problems in the service – and because it does not correspond to the promises they have heard for twenty years.

“It’s a symptom of how the railway network is in Extremadura. Not even the main line can be put in condition,” José María González told Lusa.

According to José María González, high speed in Spain “is taking all the investment to those lines” and causing regional and suburban trains, the ones that “people use” to go to work or short journeys, “to be more and more deteriorated” and with old equipment.

In the case of Extremadura, either they have closed those lines or “fifth and sixth hand trains are used, with a lot of technical problems”, he said.

“We don’t want more ‘AVES’. What we want is for investments to reach the train that people use”, he said, stressing that this is a region of Spain with depopulation problems and that the train “is key” to keeping people and being one of the answers to environmental issues.

“What we demand is that the budgets that are approved in congress should be aimed at the traditional train, that the entire railway network in Extremadura has decent trains, that link us, in a region that is very large, with neighbouring regions and, obviously, with Portugal,” explained José María González.

The celebrations for Extremadura Day began on Wednesday night in Cáceres at a ceremony in which the writer Luis Landero, from Extremadura, spoke as a representative of the region’s civil society.

The railway was the central theme of the speech, and the writer spoke of the “humiliation and mockery” of the region’s inhabitants by politicians, who continue to turn Extremadura into a “far west” from which, in past centuries, its inhabitants would emigrate, due to isolation and lack of opportunities.

Landero also called for “decent trains”, which do not need to be high speed, and said that decades of unfulfilled promises are “contempt”, “disloyalty”, “injustice”, and “arrogance” towards Extremadura.

“Dear politicians, confidently and cordially, you are scoundrels,” the writer said.