The Algarve Regional Council wants to see some of the promises contained in the National Railway Plan, in relation to investments in the network south of the Tagus, become a certainty and is already preparing its contribution to the public consultation of the document, which ends on the 28th of February.
The announcement was made on Wednesday, the 22nd, during a meeting of this advisory body of the Algarve Regional Development Coordination Commission, which was attended by four members of the Government: Ana Abrunhosa, Minister of Territorial Cohesion, and the Secretaries of State Isabel Ferreira (Regional Development), Carlos Miguel (Local Administration and Spatial Planning) and Frederico Francisco (infrastructures).
It was the latter who presented the National Railway Plan, with a focus on the interventions below the Tagus River that are foreseen in the document.
Among these, the creation of a light coastal line in the Algarve that goes to the Airport, but also a third crossing of the Tagus and a profound overhaul of the line, there is even the possibility of creating a new route, which allows serving Faro, Beja and Évora on the same axis.
One of the problems, as António Pina, president of AMAL, illustrated, is precisely the fact that the south of the country is the only one where the plan is not exhaustive and puts on the table two alternatives for reducing travel time.
The Algarve mayor even fears that, in this way, he will end up not «advancing either of the two alternatives».
«What is in the national investment program for 2030 is the rehabilitation of the southern line between Torre Vã and Tunes, that is, the last segment before ending in the Algarve, which is currently in the worst condition. This rehabilitation should make it possible to save a few minutes of travel [10 to 15, according to the plan]», Frederico Francisco explained to journalists, on the sidelines of the session.
Together with a possible new crossing of the Tagus near Lisbon, other matters on the table, which are expected to reduce trips to the south of Portugal by half an hour, «this would make it possible to put the connection between the Algarve and Lisbon on the level two hours and 15 minutes".
«These are the things that are not in doubt. What is in doubt is what goes beyond that. When we think about the horizon of 2030, two hours and 15 minutes will be a good improvement for the Algarve. But if we look to 2050 and the idea of eliminating flights in mainland Portugal, it would mean that the journey between Porto and Faro would have to walk in the order of three hours. And for that it is necessary that Faro-Lisbon can be done in less than two hours», added the member of the Government.
In other words, the question is what to do after this first intervention on the southern line, already foreseen in the 2030 National Investment Plan: «whether the solution involves continuing to invest in reducing time on the current line or whether it involves investing in a new line - which, in fact, will never be entirely new, because existing sections can be used -, which would place Faro, Beja and Évora on the same link to Lisbon», he says.
This is where the high-speed rail link to Seville comes in, via the Faro to Huelva, a work that the members of the Regional Council, which brings together mayors and representatives of public and private entities in the Algarve, consider a priority.
However, as the plan admits, this connection is only justified if the travel time between Faro and Lisbon for less than two hours. With these conditions assured, and with a high-speed line between Faro and Seville, the travel time between the Portuguese and Andalusian capitals would be less than 4 hours.
Another issue that was raised was the uncertainty surrounding the new crossing of the Tagus, which turns out to be linked to and dependent, to a certain extent, on the location of the new Lisbon Airport.
«We must not tie the discussion of the 3rd crossing of the Tagus in Lisbon to the question of the new airport. The construction of a new bridge between Lisbon and Barreiro has an importance that goes far beyond this work. It has a local importance, in terms of the Lisbon metropolitan area, and a national importance, in terms of connecting the territories that are north of the Tagus and those that are south», defended the Secretary of State for Infrastructure.
«At the moment, there is still no decision taken at the level of the Government, to proceed with this connection. Once it appears in the National Railway Plan, it will be up to future investment plans to decide when it will be included», he added.
As for the demands of the members of the Regional Council, Frederico Francisco recalls that “the plan is a proposal that is under discussion. From what is contained in the document, everything can still be changed depending on the contributions and discussions that we are having in the various regions».
And there is still room to change what is included in the proposed plan, including determining which of the alternatives for the future overhaul of the Southern Line will be included.
«Depending on the contributions that we receive, which include the Regional Councils, the general public, the internal discussion in the Government and the meeting with specialists and technicians, we may come to converge on one of the two alternatives», concluded the Secretary of State for Infrastructures.