Spain's minister for Public Works, Íñigo de la Serna, came down to Marbella on Saturday, 27 January, to reveal the first phase of the central government's study concerning extending the province's existing Cercanías (C1) local railway line as far as Marbella and Estepona.
The project would cost between 2.3 and 3.8 billion euros depending on the route chosen. Two are currently on the drawing board: one, more expensive, would run almost entirely underground following the A-7 dual carriageway closer to the coast; and the other cheaper option would run mainly above ground further inland, parallel to the AP-7 toll motorway, going underground only to approach stations in built-up areas, with a separate branch to the Costa del Sol Hospital.
A more exact estimate of the cost of the proposed lines depends on the results of the geotechnical surveys already under way, explained the minister. In either case the lines would have significant technical difficulties.
“We have very complicated terrain, a highly populated working area with a lot of residential developments and areas that, while still undeveloped, are designated for urbanisation,” said De la Serna.
The study carried out by the ministry predicts that in the year 2024 between 4.6 and 5 million passengers would use a new stretch of railway from Fuengirola to Marbella and between 7.44 and 8.15 million would use the entire line as far as Estepona. It is estimated that slightly more passengers would use the version of the line under the A-7 dual carriageway as this would run through more densely populated areas.
The next step, explained De la Serna, will be for the ministry to put the two initial proposals through a public consultation period, and then submit the report to the Environment ministry for an impact assessment. Then the plans could start to be drawn up, explained the minister.
De la Serna's visit to Marbella, where he walked through the old town with the Partido Popular (PP) mayor, Ángeles Muñoz, PP MP for Malaga, Carolina España, and the president of the PP-run provincial government, Elías Bendodo, came just three days after the Junta de Andalucía was at the centre of a controversy concerning a possible train service to Marbella.
The Socialist-run regional authority had to rectify on Thursday last week after a preview of the content of a long term plan for land use on the western Costa del Sol failed to allow for a future fast train line to Marbella, currently the only town in Spain with more than 100,000 inhabitants that has no railway service.
On Monday the Junta described the minister's proposals launched at the weekend as “insufficient” and said that Marbella needed a “more ambitious” railway plan.
Local PSOE MP, Miguel Ángel Heredia, and former Socialist mayor of Marbella, José Bernal, went one step further on Tuesday and filed a motion with parliament calling for the government to give up its plans to extend the local Cercanías railway and invest in a faster line instead.
The proposed line, said the Socialists, would leave the journey time between Malaga and Marbella at one hour and 15 minutes. This, they said, would be no competitive alternative to road travel as “you can cover the same distance in just over half an hour on the AP-7”.
They also said that the C1 local line between Malaga and Fuengirola was already overcrowded and De la Serna admitted on Saturday that with the government's plan changes would need to be made to the existing line to absorb the extra passengers.
What the area needs instead, said Heredia, is a faster international gauge railway line, with a direct link to Marbella from Malaga via the airport.
The Socialist MP criticised the minister for coming to Marbella with an “empty” promise and a half-finished study for a local line that lacks the features the town needs.