Railing


I can't have been the only sucker to think that when, in 2010, the Spanish state transferred authority over (some of) the local railway system to the Catalan government it would result in an improved service, if only because the Generalitat is closer to the complaining customers and the network itself, than the remote controllers in Madrid who had for decades eyed the serial images of trainless commuters milling furiously on Catalan platforms, with an indifference fostered by a distance that was, perhaps, not merely geographical. The 2010 transfer, however, only gave the Generalitat the power to alter timetables, shuffle staff, and repaint the trains. Everything else – the maintenance of tracks, stations and rolling stock, the construction of new lines – has remained in the hands of the RENFE and its equally despised logistical sidekick ADIF. With the result that only in the first 40 days of this year, apart from the usual countless delays, three train accidents in Catalonia have injured 35 passengers. The reason – as the Spanish Ministry of Works (Fomento) admitted last month - is that although the Catalan network is the most heavily used in Spain (being in Spain's most densely populated area) it has been denied its fair share of infrastructure funds to the tune of 510 million euros. A sum which has almost certainly been blown – as has so much else - on the AVEs, the high speed trains which have been losing money hand over fist ever since the Seville-Madrid line was opened in 1992. Indeed, the fabulously underused AVE grid – the Albacete-Toledo line had to be closed down in 2011, transporting as it was just 9 passengers daily – now has estimated yearly losses of 400 million euros. I was reflecting on all this on the bleak, service-free station of L'Aldea one Monday night in February. The station master – who is paid to stay open only 'til 9.30pm - had locked me out onto the unsheltered platform, across which icy winds were blustering with gusto (playfully rattling a heap of abandoned infrastructure works encircled by tatty ADIF netting). When the loudspeaker informed me that my train had been delayed and that I would thus be held in the gale's grip for another 30 minutes, it struck me that this was a particularly refined form of passenger torture, even for the RENFE. Meanwhile, expresses as superfast as they were vacant were zipping along lines built especially for them from ultramodern station to ultramodern station, just kilometres away from where I was shivering like a windsock. Bastards.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, març de 2012

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