JOSÉ APOLINÁRIO, president of Faro Câmara, is calling upon the government to guarantee a standard express service (alfa-pendular link) between Faro and Seville as a priority before the Algarve/Spain phase of the high speed train network (TGV) is eventually considered.
The demand was made in a letter sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, Ana Paula Vitorino following the publishing of the government’s strategic guidelines for the rail sector, which are under public consultation until November 30.
Apolinário has outlined two projects, which he believes should take priority over any future TGV link for the region: a standard express train service between Faro and Seville and an overground metro serving the Algarve’s key cities.
“We are not talking about finishing with the idea of a TGV link, but first and foremost the Algarve needs a proper connection to Spain,” he said, also pointing out that sometimes “the ultimate is the enemy of the good”.
According to Apolinário, the alfa-pendular link between Faro and Seville must be finalised in the medium term, by 2015, since it represents a “fundamental necessity” that will strengthen the relationship between the Algarve and Andalucia.
In the letter sent to the Secretary for State, Apolinário highlights the importance of the Spanish market in terms of tourism, pointing out that 7.9 per cent of visitors to the Algarve in 2005 were Spanish.
The câmara president says that the link, which would be similar to what already exists between Faro and Lisbon, would form the base for a second phase involving the same route for a TGV service.
Portugal’s planned investment in the TGV network has caused considerable political discord across the country due to the high amount involved (7.7 billion euros) as well as the cities chosen for inclusion in the network. The authorities and tourism entities in the Algarve region were incensed when the decision was made to place the Algarve-Spain TGV connection on hold and go ahead with two initial phases only: namely Lisbon-Porto and Lisbon-Madrid.
Former Faro President, José Vitorino presented a complaint to the European Commission concerning the Algarve’s exclusion to the TGV network, declaring it was “a scandal” and showed “a lack of respect” for the south.
Last month, the Minister for Public Buildings, Transport and Communications, Mário Lino presented the government’s plan for the TGV connections. The 7.7 billion euros covers links between Lisbon and Porto and Lisbon Madrid, the construction of which is due to begin in 2008. The Lisbon-Porto link involves a distance of 313km and an investment of 4.7 billion euros. The scheduled completion date is 2015.
The Lisbon-Madrid connection, which would need a 207km link until the frontier, involves an investment of 2.4 billion euros. It is expected to be completed before the other connection: in 2013.
The plan also consists of a third crossing of the Tejo, which signifies an investment of 0.6 billion euros. The strategic guidelines for the rail sector document does not specify any details concerning the realisation of a TGV connection between the Algarve and Spain or the eventual connections between Porto and Vigo and Aveiro and Salamanca.
According to this government document, the realisation of the Évora-Faro-Huelva link is “dependent on the results of viability studies to be carried out”.