Olhão's Berlin Wall

Olhão's Berlin Wall "here to stay"

Unlike its famous namesake, Olhão’s “Berlin Wall” looks unlikely to be coming down any day soon.
Rail authority Refer is adamant that the closure of a much-used pedestrian crossing in the heart of town is permanent – and it says it is needed in order to save lives.
Speaking to the Resident on Tuesday, Refer spokeswoman Susana Abrantes explained “trains are travelling at 80kms an hour in areas where they used to travel at 30kms”. She maintained that people cannot use the argument that no accidents have ever happened on the crossing on Avenida Bernardino da Silva.
“Trains are travelling faster, and although people think they can calculate when the train is coming, they are not aware of the great risk they are putting themselves in when they cross a track these days,” she told us.
Putting up more warning signs and an automated level crossing – as Olhão council is understood to have suggested – isn’t a feasible option, either.
“We’ve studied and tested this possibility, but the bottom line is most people don’t respect warning signs,” said Abrantes. “Some of the ways people cross tracks is completely frightening,” she added.
Refer’s spokeswoman highlighted the case of an elderly man in Faro in August, who died after crossing rail tracks near an automated crossing, and explained that people only realise how dangerous crossings can be when something tragic happens.
She stressed that the incident recently where locals tore down the crossing was a “tremendous mistake”.
“Whoever did it put several people in danger,” she said.
But what are locals to do now that one of the main arteries through the busy town is firmly closed off? Both the population and the local council say that the alternative underpass is “steep, inaccessible and susceptible to flooding”.
Although Refer acknowledges that the alternative is far from acceptable, it says it has been “more than willing” to help the council come up with another solution.
“We have been discussing the subject with the local council since 2010,” Abrantes revealed. “Yet we never received any valid suggestions. The council simply said we should keep the crossing open, which we cannot do, by law! The council only started making a noise after we put up the fencing,” she added.
The Resident contacted Olhão council for its comments but, as we went to press, we still hadn’t received any replies.
By MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]
Photo by João Valentim