Catalan Government pushes State rail operator aside and will take over trains to Lleida in 2024
Puigneró claims FGC will provide "a better service" and demands that "the shoddy transfer" be completed
BarcelonaThe Catalan government has made a strong statement on its rail policy: "This will be the legislature of the transfer and improvements in commuter trains and we have decided to start with Lleida". That's how clear the vice-president and minister for Digital Policies, Infrastructures and Urban Agenda, Jordi Puigneró, was after the cabinet meeting this Tuesday. The Government has announced its decision to take over the management of the regional train line R12, to Lleida –operated by Renfe–, from 2024. "We will transform the R12 regional line, which links Lleida with Cervera and Cervera with Manresa, into two commuter lines managed by Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC), the RL3 and RL4," explained Puigneró, who assured that the Generalitat has the capacity to do so.
The goal, explained the vice-president, is to "improve the service" in this area, but there is also the intention of sending a warning to the Spanish government: "The decision is the prelude to the model of commuter trains that we want for Catalonia, operated and managed from Catalonia, with the FGC model and with criteria of punctuality, safety, cleanliness, intermodality and advanced services", said Puigneró. "We have experience and we have proven it over the last few years", he insisted. The vice president has described the current transfer of commuter trains, agreed in 2009, as a "shoddy transfer" and has demanded an "effective transfer" that includes not only the management of the trains and the decision of services and rates, but also the ownership of the infrastructure, that is, the tracks, which now belong to state rail infrastructure company Adif. "The citizens of Catalonia do not deserve the current service. We are serious, we cannot permanently have these pretend transfers", he insisted, explaining that he will demand these changes in all the bilateral meetings with the State.
Puigneró has also made it clear that the Generalitat starts with the Lleida line because it is small (it only represents 10% of the total of commuter trains in Catalonia) and it is economically viable to "advance" this money with the Generalitat's own resources. Despite this, the vice-president has stressed that the cost of assuming this management – €9m per year – will be transferred to the State, "when the rest of the transfers are negotiated," he said. "The bill will be passed on," he insisted. As for the position of the Spanish government, which last week again said that the total transfer is not viable because the tracks are also used by other trains, Puigneró has been blunt: "It is a bad excuse: we have checked it and these tracks are almost exclusively used by commuter trains", he said. "If they don't want to make the transfer effective, they should say so clearly and then the citizens can make decisions".
Improvements in Lleida
The executive has predicted that, with the change from Renfe to FGC, the Lleida-Cervera-Manresa line will get "important improvements". According to the Government, the Catalan operator will double the frequency of trains and will increase from 6 to 12 trips between Lleida and Cervera and from 3 to 5 trains on the Cervera-Manresa section. The old trains will also be replaced by new, more modern, sustainable trains that "provide added value services, such as wifi connection". "We hope that with this commitment this service will increase its demand by around 55% in the coming years".
According to the transfer agreement signed in 2009, the Generalitat can choose the operator, the type of service and the fares in the Catalan rail service. The Generalitat also has plans for the future train line to the airport, which uses a Renfe line, will be operated by FGC, The Spanish operator, however, has not given up and will seek to continue managing this infrastructure.