Plan to reinforce ailing rail network “won’t wash”, says union

As part of this year’s election promises the government has launched a major tender for the purchase of 22 new CP (Comboios de Portugal) trains. The amount to be spent, say reports, is €168 million, spread over a period of eight years.

In a ceremony in Marco de Canaveses (Porto district) on Monday, prime minister António Costa smiled expansively in the company of minister for planning Pedro Marques, the ‘message’ being that this government is determined to revive the country’s ailing rail network.

But is this tender the answer? Union FECTRANS thinks not. Indeed it even suspects the whole thing could be shelved once the elections are over.

In a statement accompanying all the media razzmatazz on Monday FECTRANS ‘welcomed the purchase of new trains’ but said on its own this would “not be enough to respond to all CP’s current and future problems”.

Stressing that it “hoped the tender would not be annulled like others after the legislative elections”, the union said what it did not address were urban or long-haul services “areas where CP’s newest material is already reaching operational middle-age”.

Explain reports, the union sees the tender as the government “limiting CP’s capacity for response to the most lucrative segment so that they can then contract them out to the private sector as part of a liberalisation of rail transport”.

The government has not responded to these criticisms, though planning minister Pedro Marques later appeared on television to boost the significance of the new tender.

Marques took the opportunity to lambast critics over CP’s lack of punctuality, suggesting that the service was running at 98.8% and far from the ‘chaos’ described by unions which went on strike over Christmas.

The purchase of new trains and accompanying parts was “very significant” and will be accompanied by the hiring of over 100 new maintenance crew, he said.

As for urban and long-haul services, Marques explained “first there must be regional cohesion”, and then the government would concentrate on the rest.

Promises however have been made in the past. TVI news anchors reminded the minister of the pledge to upgrade the Cascais line (in and out of Lisbon).

That will be happening, said Marques – explaining that when he took up the reins in planning and infrastructures, “the last government hadn’t left a euro in the 2020 programme”.

The upgrade however will get underway “now, at the beginning of 2019”.