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Commuters on the Malaga-Fuengirola Cercanías line at Plaza Mayor station. Migue Fernández
Malaga-Fuengirola train service is very profitable but has seen little investment, and these are the numbers
Rail travel

Malaga-Fuengirola train service is very profitable but has seen little investment, and these are the numbers

The whole province, including the Costa del Sol, fares badly in comparison with other similar Cercanías commuter lines around Spain

Chus Heredia

Malaga

Wednesday, 10 January 2024, 16:20

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The C1 Malaga-Fuengirola Cercanías commuter train service is on the political and public radar as rarely before. In addition to the problems of staff shortages that hit the service two years ago, other problems have come to the fore, such as constant breakdowns and delays, and overcrowded trains. There is no doubt that it is a service at the limit of its capacity, which is also losing the prestige the line had, based on its reliability. The trade unions highlight the lack of resources while passengers' complaints point out that the line needs to serve the whole of the Costa del Sol.

The line to Fuengirola and the C2 one to Álora (with much less frequent trains) is the Cinderella of the railway in Malaga province. But there are no plans to connect Malaga and Antequera by the Cercanías despite the track, and stations, being in place.

In this context, a new study to connect Malaga and Marbella by train was presented last week. The work has been developed by the consultancy ACRS and Analistas Económicos, has been financed by Unicaja and promoted by Malaga city council and the Diputación, Malaga´s provincial authority. The document analyses in depth the situation of Malaga province, including the Costa del Sol, with regard to the local train and compares it with other parts of the province. The statistics confirm the already present grievance in the collective imagination.

Population growth

The preamble of the report warns that population growth calls for decisions to be taken. We are talking about an urban conglomeration of 1.5 million inhabitants.

The study notes a potential demand of 46 million passengers per year. This, in itself, validates the need to bet on a railway model that is growing in terms of services. But what other figures offer us a snapshot of the situation?

First of all, the Airef, the Independent Authority for Fiscal Responsibility, places Cercanías as the means of transport in which the crossing of passenger capacity curves and operating costs is the most profitable. It significantly outperforms the metro in this comparison and the differences are even greater in the comparison with the metro and buses.

Malaga comes out badly in all indicators

In terms of number of lines, Barcelona has 18, Madrid has ten, Valencia has six and Seville has five. If we take the length of lines, Barcelona and its greater area has 462 kilometres; Madrid, 370 kilometres; Valencia, 323; Seville, 254; and Malaga, barely 70, making it the Spanish province with the least length of line in relation to its population. What is more, in kilometres per 100,000 inhabitants, the Malaga ratio is 4.07, considerably lower than the 13 kilometres in Seville, 12 in Valencia, eight in Barcelona or six in Madrid.

In terms of population served, the figures are not in Malaga's favour either. In Madrid, 91.4% of the population is covered by Cercanías services; in Barcelona, 89.8%; in Valencia, 60.4%; in Seville, 67.1%, but in Malaga, it is only 57.4%.

The figures for daily traffic per inhabitant, provided by the National Association of Urban and Metropolitan Transport (ATUC), are not flattering either. The C1 and C2 Cercanías lines have 112 daily circulations, which gives an average of 6.7 circulations per 100,000 inhabitants. In contrast, Madrid has 20.9 circulations; Bilbao, 23.3 services; Barcelona, 52.1; Valencia, 40.6; Asturias, 17.5 trains, and Alicante, 26.4 circulations.

The annual passenger volume of the Malaga Cercanías core line totalled 11.8 million passengers in the last pre-pandemic year, while Seville had 7.7 million passengers despite having three more lines.

In terms of income, Malaga has the highest revenue per passenger in relation to the length of the available network after Barcelona and Madrid, and is almost three times higher than Valencia and more than six times higher than Seville. The average revenue per passenger in Malaga is 33% higher than the average in Spain.

The ACRS report states: "To make matters worse, in the period 2013-2018 Cercanías users decreased in almost all cities, with negative rates ranging between three and 28%, while it is in Malaga where Cercanías users grew the most in all of Spain, with a rate in that period analysed by Airef that reached 20%, while Madrid and Barcelona grew by 11% and Seville by only 2%".

Which are the most used Cercanías stations?

Malaga Centro Alameda (1.4 million passengers per year), Fuengirola (1.2 million), Malaga María Zambrano (1.1 million) and Arroyo de la Miel (1 million). At the other end of the scale are Torremuelle (173,000), Guadalhorce (147,000), Los Álamos (123,000) and Carvajal (118,000).

The ACRS report also makes it clear that Malaga is the least expensive nucleus for the public coffers, given that it covers 75% of its expenses.

Reasons for not extending the C1

The need to invest in Cercanías and in building a coastal corridor is backed by the fact that between Malaga and Marbella there are 65,000 people who work outside the municipality where they live. That gives a potential of 40 million journeys per year to commute to work.

The study suggests that the C1 line should be maintained even if an AVE and Cercanías rail corridor is built from the airport to Marbella. There are two reasons for this: the first is that it is already built and should not be dispensed with while the works are underway, and the second is that if it is already at the limit of its capacity it is not optimal to add more freight and more journeys. That is why it is necessary to build a new route.

Renfe sources indicated that they are still working on the final statistics for 2023. A record year is expected given the figures from the first half of the year thanks to the season tickets and strong public transport subsidies. The C1 and C2 carried 7.35 million passengers up until the summer, which represents a 75% year-on-year growth and an increase of almost 30% compared to 2019.

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