Business 05/08/2021

El Prat-Girona-Reus rail connection raises doubts

In spite of the historical delays in the high-speed rail, the agreement between the State and the Government foresees work on new stations to start by 2026

3 min
A Ryanair plane loading luggage in Girona.

BarcelonaThe president of the Chamber of Commerce of Reus is not holding his breath after Monday's agreement between the State and the Generalitat to build high-speed rail connections at Reus and Girona airports. It is a promise he has heard for twelve years. The two administrations have committed to completing these railway connections in the framework of the negotiation to expand El Prat airport near Barcelona. For Jordi Just, this deal means that in five years the works on an AVE station at the airport would start. "We have learnt our lesson with this issue and we will watch very closely that deadlines are really met", he warns. The announcement of the high-speed train station for Reus, which has been talked about since 2009, has been received with both joy and scepticism. "We have heard excuses about the economy and the crisis for years, while there are areas of 1,400 inhabitants where high-speed rail stations have been built. Why does a region of 480,000 people have less weight?" Just asks.

This balance between scepticism and celebration is the same as expressed by Jaume Fàbrega, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Girona. "We consider it very good news, but here the issue of deadlines is crucial, not so much because of the announcements as execution. We have experience in big announcements which have been made, but then public works are inexplicably lengthened in time," he adds. According to what the Spanish and Catalan governments have agreed, the stations to link the airports of Girona and Reus with Barcelona by high-speed train would be under construction before 2026, a year that has to mark a turning point in the Catalan airport network. "I hope it is real, but in Girona we still have works such as the widening of the N-II that have not been finished. From this point of view, it is difficult for us to believe in 2026", warns Fàbrega.

Government sources stress that the goal of having the stations under construction by 2026 is "100% realistic". Technically, they stress, it is possible to meet the deadlines agreed with the State, but it will take political will on the part of Spanish rail infrastructure company Adif. The stop in Reus has not even been projected, while the one in Girona was already foreseen in and has to be approved by the Council of Ministers before the end of September. The cost of these new infrastructures could be between €40m and €55m each, according to these sources. This connection, they clarify, would be made in the near future with the city of Barcelona and not with El Prat airport, as it initially seemed, after statements made by Catalan vice-president Jordi Puigneró.

Delays of the high-speed train

"The objective of the railway connection was to avoid lengthening the runway at El Prat; however, now that the Generalitat has allowed it, what is it?", asks the economy professor at Barcelona University and expert in infrastructures Germà Bel. The expert considers that this approach is "totally absurd". He believes the journey from Girona airport to Barcelona will continue to be faster by bus than by high-speed train, once waiting times and journeys from the terminal to the AVE station are factored in. "It was outrageous to say that Girona could serve as a third runway and connect it directly with by high-speed train to El Prat, no other airport in the world has that ," says the academic. In addition, he warns that the connection of Reus and Girona will mean "hundreds of millions in investment and public deficit" to end up "subsidising" the routes in case the plan does not work.

The doubts about the railway situation of Catalan airports are based on a dangerous precedent. AVE has already had infamous delays such as the one at La Sagrera station. The execution of the works began to be awarded in 2009 and, after several delays, the completion was projected for 2020. The opening date, however, has been moved back to 2023.

The key points
  • What have the Generalitat and the State agreed on the AVE link to Reus and Girona airports? The understanding announced last Monday made explicit that the State commits to build high-speed stations to connect the two airports with Barcelona. "A fact that will allow to bet on intermodality and improve the operation of El Prat", the Generalitat defended then.
  • What is the current situation? The AVE stop in Girona airport had already been projected in Aena's investments, but it has been a pending debt with the airport for years. In Reus, the link, which the area considers essential to revive the airport, has not even been put out to tender. The agreement implies that the construction will be underway before 2026, that is, in the next five years. Generalitat sources calculate that the stations would cost between €40m and €55m each.
  • At what level of detail has this investment been specified? "At the moment, zero," say Government sources. These voices claim that there is a margin of four years to specify the details of the master plan in the framework of the institutional committee that studies the extension of El Prat airport (and its impact on Girona and Reus). In this sense, they insist that the current agreement does not specify whether it will affect the protected marshlands of La Ricarda or how many meters the third runway will be extended over this protected natural area.