Granada has been almost completely cut off from the national rail network for three years. The last train to arrive in Granada from Madrid, Barcelona, or Seville was on 7 April 2015. Since then, if you wanted to travel to Granada overland by public transport, you would have to complete your journey by coach.
When the train service between Granada and Antequera, some 100 kilometres to the west, was interrupted over three years ago, they said it would be for a period of between four and six months while work on the ‘first phase’ of the high-speed rail link was being completed.
I first discussed the problematic execution of the high-speed rail link to Granada five years ago in February 2013 (#post 29) under the title ‘Low-speed AVE’, AVE being short for ‘alta velocidad’ (high-speed) at the same time as having the meaning of ‘bird’: a train that ‘flies’ like a bird, get it? The post referred to proposed compromises being imposed by austerity measures which would increase the journey time by up to 45 minutes and thus compromise the whole purpose of the project.
My last two posts bore the heading ‘No-Speed AVE’ and date from January and February 2017 (#post 54 & 56). The heading refers to the abandonment of any concrete commitment by the central government to completing the work at all within a specific time frame.
On Sunday 8 April some 5000 people took to the streets in the rain to mark the unfortunate third anniversary and to make a fresh demand for a commitment from the government with concrete dates regarding the inauguration of the AVE service to Granada. The main points of contention are the trajectory of a short-ish stretch of line through Loja, a town fifty kilometres west of Granada, and the last few kilometres into the city, via the western Chana suburb. A prompt conclusion of the speed trials through Loja was called for, as well as an underpass to avoid splitting the Chana neighbourhood in two. (Source: Javier Morales, Ideal newspaper, Monday 9 April 2018.)
For a tourist destination such as Granada is, the three-year hiatus in train services has of course been fairly catastrophic. The Provincial Government of Granada reckons losses of around 400 million euros in terms of lost income from tourists who would have visited Granada if there had been a decent high-speed train service, or, indeed, any sort of train service. In fact, the number of visitors to Granada has by and large maintained its 2014 level, because people have continued wanting to come here in spite of all the odds, and inconvenience.
In 2014 a total of 647,000 passengers passed through the station. In 2017 this figure had fallen to 321,393, a loss of 51%. The night train to Barcelona, it is reckoned, has lost 77% of its passengers: from 100,000 in 2014 to barely 19,000 in 2016, recovering slightly to 22,000 in 2017. The Madrid connection is almost as badly affected, with a loss of 40% of its passengers, from 157,000 in 2014 to 94,000 in 2017. The accumulated loss of passengers over the three years has been calculated at around 850,000, adding up to a huge loss of income for RENFE, the state railway company, on top of the 7.3 million euros that the government has had to pay on substitute coaches to freight passengers between Granada and Antequera. (Source: M. V. Cobo, Ideal newspaper, Sunday 8 April 2018.)
A major stumbling block to the completion of the long awaited high-speed connection has been the San Francisco tunnel in Loja. The nineteenth century tunnel is only a couple of hundred metres long, but it is curved, and leaves only a space of some 70 centimetres between the train and the tunnel wall. This is safe for conventional trains travelling at 30 or 50 kph, but surely less so, in spite of the train line’s assurances to the contrary, for an AVE whooshing through at around 300. Anyway, trials are being carried out, though nobody is willing to give any details about how far these have progressed, or how much longer they are likely to last, or when they are likely to be finished. (Source: M. V. Cobo again, as above.)
Work on the track itself is finished, they say, but there are still ‘complementary activities’ to be carried out, such as the gentrification of the station area in Granada, completing the enclosure of the whole length of the line, and anti-erosion work on the embankments. At the same time, something called structural tests are being carried out. These should be completed in May. Only then can the training of train drivers (no pun) be started as this has to be done over the new trajectory itself so the drivers can familiarise themselves with its unique characteristics.
Although the Government initially promised to issue monthly reports on the progress of work on the line, they have had nothing to say since October 2017. In the meantime, RENFE has extended its contracts with the bus companies to October 2018.