Demonstration in Extremadura for the reopening of the Ruta de Plata railway line

Spanish communities call for reopening of north-south ‘Ruta de la Plata’ railway

Demonstration in Extremadura for the reopening of the Ruta de Plata railway line on 4 November Ayuntamiento de Cáceres

It has not been operational for nearly forty years: the railway line in Western Spain connecting the northern region Asturias with Andalusia in the South, through Extremadura. People in more than 8 towns demonstrated for a reopening of the line last Saturday.

According to Spanish media, hundreds of people gathered to make it known that they demand the railway link to be reopened, in cities including Salamanca, Zamora, Plasencia, Astorga and more. The ‘Ruta de la Plata’ railway line crossed Spain from Gijón to Seville, through western provinces and towns. In 1985, the line between Astorga and Plasencia was closed for passengers, and in 1997 for goods.

This has not only left the affected cities without a rail connection but also prevented north-south flows. This forces rail traffic to pass through Madrid, increasing costs, pollution and travel times, as well as unnecessarily congesting the traffic of people and goods in Madrid, according to the Corredor Oeste Manifesto, which has been signed by 45 organisations, 283 businesses and 1.644 individuals.

Map of the Ruta de Plata railway Spain
The section of the Ruta de la Plata (in red), closed for nearly forty years, is a missing rail link in Western Spain, meaning north-south traffic has to go via Madrid

The call for reopening is getting stronger

Politicians also joined the rallies, including the Popular Group (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) parties. A spokesperson for the PP in the Assembly of Extremadura, José Ángel Sánchez Juliá, said to EFE that the Ruta de la Plata train is a “fundamental infrastructure for the development of Extremadura”, a region that “cannot afford to continue losing connections and, above all, with the north.” Extremadura is one of Spain’s least populated Autonomous Communities, with 2.27 per cent of the Spanish population living there in 2019. Per kilometre, it has the lowest population density.

The reopening of the Ruta de la Plata railway would mean linking the northern ports in Asturias with those in the south, in Andalusia. It would not only be a means of transportation for the people living there but also a means of economic and social development by moving goods. Local governments and people have been making a case for the reopening for quite some time. In 2017, the Congress of Deputies, or the lower house in Spain, approved reopening the Ruta de la Plata train between Astorga and Extremadura, reserving some budget for studies. The PP then voted against the initiative.

Feasibility study ‘not fast enough’

The initiative included carrying out a study on the most appropriate route for the railway, necessary actions, costs and preliminary planning for its commissioning. It would also analyse the connections with the different corridors currently planned that are part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

In the recent demonstrations, a manifesto has been read in which it is stated that “it is not acceptable” that the Ministry of Mobility, Transport and Urban Agenda has limited itself to publishing (on September 25) the tender for the drafting of the study of feasibility to reactivate the Ruta de la Plata railway corridor between Plasencia and León, with an execution period of 24 months that would end in April 2026. This in their view is not fast enough, and the Ruta de la Plata Western Corridor Platform asks the national government to speed up the processes so that progress is greater and that there are sections in operation before 2030.

The out-of-use tracks of the Ruta de la Plata near La Bañeza in the region León
The out-of-use tracks of the Ruta de la Plata railway and an abandoned station in La Bañeza in the region León

Higher priority in the European network

Another demand of the demonstrators is that the Ruta de la Plata railway has to be included in the Atlantic Corridor of the Trans-European Network (TEN-T). In the Plaza of the town Astorga in Léon, a hundred people joined together. “I think it is time for all of western Spain to have an Atlantic corridor to move goods”, said the town’s Mayor José Luis Nieto to Antena 3. This would make it possible to get financing from European funds for the reopening of the railway line.

In 2021, Europe did not include it on the map of European railway corridors, but it was included in the global network of railway and transport corridors in the TEN-T earlier this year. With the most recent revision of the TEN-T Regulation, three phases of the trans-European transport network are contemplated: 2030 for the basic network – of a priority nature -, 2040 for the expanded basic network and 2050, at the latest, for the global network. The 2040 intermediary deadline was added to the existing two layers.

Currently being part of the global network lines, the horizon for finishing the reopening is 2050, which is not good enough for many people and businesses along the Ruta de la Plata. Therefore, the manifesto calls for the Plasencia-Salamanca connection to be included in the Main Basic Network with 2030 as a deadline, and Salamanca – León and Mérida–Seville/Huelva in the Expanded Basic Network. Spokesperson of the Corredor Oeste Ruta de la Plata platform José María Alonso said during the manifestation: “We cannot accept the year 2050 to see the Ruta de la Plata railway in operation, the future of the western peninsula is at stake; our limit is 2040 so that the entire railway line is completed between Plasencia and Astorga”.

Author: Esther Geerts

Former Editor RailTech.com

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