Another billion euros are needed to complete the project. :: RAMÓN L. PÉREZ
It was a decade ago that an attempt was made to link Malaga with Seville in under an hour, which would be half the time it takes now. But the money ran out in 2011, when 280 million euros had already been spent and another billion were needed. That is why there are now 77 kilometres of land prepared for tracks between Antequera and Marchena, built but never used.
The Junta de Andalucía delivered the coup de grâce this week, after giving the European Investment Bank back the 180 million euro loan it had granted to finance the works; in other words, the project has been abandoned. The decision has sparked strong criticism from the Partido Popular, which is demanding that the works be resumed, and a technical debate over whether the infrastructure should ever have been started, at a time of economic boom when everything was considered worth doing, no matter how viable it was.
Debates apart, SUR has been able to check the reality on the ground. And if one day an official complaint was lodged by environmentalists because of the possible damage the project would cause to endangered wildlife, today, when there are no longer any machines or workers and no trains are passing at 250 kilometres an hour, different species of birds and rabbits are the only ones who are enjoying this infrastructure.
What remains of this railway version of the A-92, which was going to join Andalucía together, is currently a type of wide country lane which has integrated into the silent rural landscape through which it runs. A long line of earth in a lighter colour than the green fields of the Antequera plain and the fields of Seville through which it passes. This newspaper has taken a close look at the seven stretches that have been built and the first conclusion is that the ecologists can relax, and for many years to come. There are no tall fences or engines with which the bustards could collide. Nor is there any noise to disturb the life cycles of other species. Actually, the only birds to be seen were those that were drinking water from the gutters of the overhead bridges. The native fauna in this area can enjoy eleven viaducts, 28 bridges and nine underpasses as well as the two false tunnels which were built, big enough to contain a double track of international gauge.
Ending at a fence
The end of the track is sudden and can even be seen on satellite images. This brown ‘scar’ which crosses part of the provinces of Malaga and Seville ends abruptly at a fence. Beyond that metal boundary, the green plain begins again. This is Marchena, where local people point out that the works divided up people’s land and properties had to be compulsorily purchased.
Just behind a small hill covered with olive trees, which these days can only be accessed by walking through mud, the dream of linking the two Andalucías comes to an end. From there, the route back to Antequera sometimes runs alongside the present railway track, which is Iberian gauge, and the works for the new one which was designed for high-speed trains. This is the case near Osuna, where the two run close together, the difference being that one is filled with dark ballast, metal rails and wooden crossbars, while the other is the colour of light earth on a substantially wider platform.
A total of 25 kilometres of levelled ground link Marchena and Osuna, in two stretches whose works cost more than 80 million euros. In Osuna, where the new track goes round the southern side of the town in order not to cross it, three viaducts have been built, one of them 196 metres long. The works of these 14.5 kilometres of bypass cost 40 million euros. From there, the track runs from Osuna to Aguadulce and Gilena, a stretch which has one viaduct, five bridges and two underpasses. Twenty two million euros were spent on constructing these nine kilometres and another half a million on the “Restoration of the landscape of the cross-Andalucía rail link, Osuna-Aguadulce stretch”, as can be read on the discoloured signs which are near the unfinished track, at the Blanco river. One of the largest amounts of investment was to prevent the works contaminating the river, and ensuring that the embankments did not affect wildlife. At present, when the lorries carrying rails, sleepers and tons of ballast do not have to pass through here, the infrastructure coexists with the landscape without affecting it much (in the eyes of a layman).
At the end of this stretch lies one of the most remarkable images to be found along the 77 stretches which have been completed. Pedrera has the privilege of having two stations: one through which the trains pass and the other where there are not even any tracks. In the former, which is the normal railway station, the people of this village can catch a train to Seville or Granada. The other is a stopping place built halfway along the unfinished route of the high speed AVE rail service. A station with numerous signs which are deteriorating and which will be illegible before the first train ever passes through.
From Aguadulce to Pedrera the track runs through the municipalities of La Roda and Fuente de Piedra, an area which is subject to special protection because of the lagoons. Along this 14.5 kilometre stretch, the work consisted of widening the existing track, so that it could be used by the AVE as far as the station at Fuente de Piedra, where the future high-speed line bears away from the lagoon while the existing one follows a bend parallel to it.
From here there are just seven kilometres to the Antequera-Santa Ana station, where the line that comes from Seville crosses over the track to Malaga. For the first time, a real AVE train can be seen, on its way to the capital of the Costa del Sol. The Junta de Andalucía’s logo is painted on one side of the bridge; it is the only regional government which embarked - and failed - on the construction of an ambitious high speed railway line, of which these 77 kilometres are now a sad reminder.