2024 key year for Algarve railway electrification and EN125 roadworks

Railway electrification to be completed next year

2024 will be a key year for the Algarve’s long overdue railway electrification and the renovation of the EN125 road between Olhão and Vila Real de Santo António.

The guarantee came from Portugal’s Minister of Infrastructure, João Galamba, during a visit to Olhão on Monday.

The electrification of the regional railway should have been completed in 2021, but if the minister is to be believed, the works will finally be completed next year.

“For many years, there were no railway works due to a lack of resources, numerous simultaneous projects, logistical challenges, and rising costs,” he told journalists.

Galamba said these “many difficulties” have been overcome, and that “what matters is that we are committed to carrying the works out out as soon as possible”.

Portugal’s infrastructures authority (Infrastruturas de Portugal) is currently electrifying the 56-kilometre stretch between Faro and Vila Real de Santo António and the 45-kilometre segment between Tunes and Lagos.

The project also includes several additional improvements, such as constructing a new substation in Olhão, modernising the signalling and communication system, installing overhead lines, and eliminating and automating level crossings.

The goal is for a train journey across the entire Algarve (from Lagos to Vila Real de Santo António and vice-versa), which currently takes more than three hours, to be shortened by 25 minutes.

But will this 25-minute reduction really make trains a viable alternative to cars in a region where functional public transporation remains a mirage?

“It will certainly be more competitive than it is today,” the minister said, adding: “Is this the ideal situation? Obviously, the railway requires a lot of investment, and we will have all the willingness to consider improvements to the route that will reduce travel time.”

However, the minister stressed that the priority at the moment is to “complete these works,” which cost around €80 million.

The government is also exploring “all possible avenues” to resolve the legal dispute that has been delaying urgent roadworks on the EN125 road between Olhão and VRSA by 2024, said Galamba.

At issue is a conflict between Infraestruturas de Portugal (IP) and the subconcession company Rotas do Algarve Litoral (RAL), which is being resolved in an arbitration court.

In 2019, RAL informed IP of its intention to terminate the subconcession road contract, as it believed the contract was infeasible after the Court of Auditors refused to approve changes made in 2017 to the document, which was initially signed in 2010.

The minister reiterated that “by the year 2024, this situation will be resolved, unblocked,” so the government can “make decisions about a set of priority interventions that are currently stalled.”

Local authorities and communities have been calling for urgent roadworks on the stretch of EN125 between Olhão and Vila Real de Santo António for years.

Meanwhile, João Galamba revealed that he was due to sign a decree on Monday authorising the launch of the tender for the construction of the EN125 Olhão bypass road.

With a length of six kilometres and an estimated cost of €15.6 million, the bypass will divert traffic away from the centre of Olhão.

In August, the government authorised IP to negotiate with the subconcession company RAL to take on the construction of this section, which is part of the Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR).

“The Olhão bypass is special in the sense that it was a PRR project, which has not only the financial aspect of the PRR but also the PRR’s goals associated with it. Therefore, it had this uniqueness, and we were able to solve it separately,” said the minister.

IP will launch the tender “in the coming days, at the latest in the next two weeks,” estimated the minister, adding that contract should be awarded in 2024.

“Our expectation is that there may already be some work on the ground during 2024,” he said.

By Michael Bruxo

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