Portugal and Spain, increasingly distant neighbors

Javier García had never had such a difficult time coming home. Since it was installed in Lisboa a little less than two years ago and until the beginning of pandemic, this young man from Salamanca benefited from the tour historic hotel-trains Lusitania and Surexpresso to spend the weekend with the family. But that’s history. With the arrival of covid-19, Renfe decided to suspend indefinitely the service of both trains, which linked the Portuguese capital with Madrid and with the French border through Salamanca.

The suspension of the only railway connection linking the two Iberian capitals disrupted García’s plans, who made the journey in just over seven hours. “The train allowed me to spend the weekend in Salamanca. I left on Friday night, arrived first thing in the morning on Saturday and on Sunday night I would take the train again and arrive in Lisbon on Monday morning” , he assures. The journey he has to make now to get home has forced him to stay in Lisbon longer than he would like. “If the line was active I would have gone once more, but in this situation the desire is over.”

Renfe ruled out at the end of May to restore the service in the short term due to its poor profitability -with a volume of almost 150,000 passengers and losses of close to five million euros in 2019-, despite criticism from environmental organizations and representatives of the border regions. The Spanish company assures EL PERIÓDICO that they are awaiting the evolution of the pandemic to assess the situation together with the Portuguese counterpart, Comboios de Portugal (CP), although the Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure, Pedro Nuno Santos, assured that Renfe “has not shown interest so far” to resume the service.

But on the Portuguese side the situation is not much more hopeful. The Portuguese Minister of Territorial Cohesion herself, Ana Abrunhosa, stated in an interview with the Efe agency that people who want to travel from Lisbon to Madrid “already have a fast way” to do so, referring to plane. Some statements he made on the eve of the Spanish-Portuguese summit of Guarda, in mid-October, and from which he left the will to strengthen ties territorial, economic and cultural on both sides of the border – with special emphasis on green energy and sustainability.

The eternal promise of high speed

There are currently two railway lines that cross the border between Spain and Portugal: those that link Entroncamento with Badajoz, in Estremadura, and Porto with Vigo, in Galicia. The two Spanish regions have been demanding for years an improvement of the infrastructures on the border through the Atlantic axis and the Southwest corridor. The bet for high speed It would be a boost to their economies, although for now it has not received a firm response from the governments of both countries, beyond good intentions.

“It is a question of the budget and of will”, says the promoter and spokesperson for the Sudoeste Ibérico en Red platform, Antonio García Salas. “Right now the connections are worse than 10 years ago, we have gone from a frequency of three daily trips from Entroncamento to only one”. For Salas, the only way to boost the economy of the area in key sectors Like food or tourism, it involves improving communications between the port of Sines, in Portugal, and the rest of the peninsula and Europe. “Right now we are the periphery of the periphery“, the Mint.

The battle on the highways

The inhabitants of the border areas have been fighting for years for the replacement of the old SCUT, freeways privately run Portuguese whose tolls were borne by the State. With the arrival of the economic crisis of 2008, payment of tolls passed to users, who denounced unfavorable treatment for these regions and warned of the economic impact that it would have on connections with Spain, since three of these highways reach the border. “Many small companies stopped transporting their merchandise to both sides of the border because it was not profitable,” explains José Gameiro, president of the Beira Baixa Business Association.

The Portuguese Government has included in the Budgets for 2021 discounts for regular users of these highways and an extension of those already existing in the transport of goods, but the representatives of the local associations consider that they are insufficient and insist on the total elimination of tolls by users. “The border lines are development zones throughout Europe, but this is not the case here,” says Gameiro, who urges governments to increase their efforts to prevent depopulation in the region. “We have decided to stay and we do not want to regret it.”

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