Small Great Revolution

The Mayor of Barcelona, Jordi Hereu talks of  the future high-speed rail links between Spain and France

Basil Howitt offers a third update on the high-speed TGV link-in-progress between Perpignan and Barcelona. He also looks at the longer-term TGV prospects from Paris to Barcelona. Finally he has a peep at the plans for the massive new underground high-speed railway terminal at la Sagrera, Barcelona.

‘I don’t know of any other two such important cities that will be linked by rail in so short a time.
[Guillaume Pépy, President of SNCF, on the TGV link between Perpignan and Barcelona, now scheduled for 2012] 


Will I live long enough I asked myself about a year ago?
I was wondering, not too hopefully, whether I would ever have the chance to ride high speed (300-320 km/h) not just from Perpignan, but all the way from Paris to Barcelona.
I dreamed fancifully of being whisked southwards from Paris in the haze of a five-course lunch with fine wines through Nîmes, Montpellier, Perpignan, Figueres and Girona. There would barely be time for coffee and digestifs before we reached Barcelona.

A year on I am more hopeful – of the journey if not the dream lunch! The president of SNCF, Guillaume Pépy, and his Spanish counterpart at RENFE, Teófilo Serrano, met recently at a landmark gathering in Barcelona (January 22) convened by the city’s dynamic mayor Jordi Hereu. The mayor trumpeted Barcelona’s vastest-ever construction project just under way – a new high-speed railway terminal in the Sagrera district of the city, costed at 1.2 billion euros.

On the same occasion Pépy and Serrano offered various undertakings, or firm intentions, concerning the high-speed links between Paris, Perpignan and Barcelona. Pépy seemed confident that the entire length of the journey will be high-speed by 2020. “Il faut effacer la frontière géographique” he said firmly at the gathering. (“The geographical frontier must be wiped out.”) It didn’t seem to bother him that funding for the only missing link in the chain – between Montpellier and Perpignan – is still not confirmed.

There is no reason to be too sceptical about Pépy’s optimism. After all, both France and Spain have an unmatched “track record” within Europe of bringing visionary transport plans to fruition. If I’m still around, I shall be 80 in 2020. With the help of the French health service I ought to make it! So I might get to travel the whole length of the line.


Or am I just plain silly? There is a small part of me in all this that wonders whether all this frantic speed is really necessary for a fulfilled life. The answer may be that economies only seem to survive if they go on growing relentlessly, even senselessly.

Perpignan-Barcelona: Where are we now?

As I write in early February, there is a clear revised schedule for the link between Perpignan and Barcelona via Figueres and Girona. Although the cross-frontier north and south bound tunnels at Le Perthus were completed to contract in February 2009, not a single train with paying passengers has used them. Hence Spain’s liability for vast sums of money, in compensation for lost tolls, to the umbrella construction consortium and concessionaire, T.P. Ferro.

Alt Empordà

At present the high-speed line stops abruptly in open countryside not far from Figueres, where work began last October on a brand new station, Alt Empordà, 5 kilometres south west of the town. Delays have not been due to Spanish or French inefficiency, but to intractable geological problems. Tunnelling at Gerona has been hampered by the presence of three underground water courses, whilst boring underneath Barcelona has been delayed because of fears for the structure of Spain’s most popular tourist attraction, Gaudi’s controversial Sagrada Familia church dedicated to the Holy Family.

“Unequivocal” – end 2010

Things are now moving. Pépy has made an unequivocal undertaking (“sans équivoque”), quoted in El Periódico de Catalunya (21 February), that TGV trains will run between Perpignan and Figures by December of this year.

As a transitional arrangement, the TGV will run to the present station at Figures (in a mere 20 minutes) where passengers will have to change to a conventional Spanish train because Spain’s track gauge (1668-m) is wider than the standard European one (1435-m).

Passengers will still save an hour or so over the present journey of just under three hours on the dear old Spanish Talgo that goes all the way every day from Montpellier via Barcelona to Cartagena. (By some complicated manoeuvre known only to engineers, the gauge change at Port Bou takes place miraculously under your feet while the train pauses.)

Ca y est – 2012

Pépy has also gone on record in El Periódico de Catalunya as “promising” that the full works – TGV high speed all the way from Perpignan to Barcelona – will be achieved in 2012. Time: 45 minutes. 3 Number crunching 3 The following decisions and data emerged at the Mayor of Barcelona’s high-speed summit meeting:
Teófilo Serrano undertook to provide 10 AVE trains, to be ready by 2012, at a total cost of 270 million euros. (AVE = Alta velocidad española, or Spanish high speed).
The trains will be ordered from the French ALSTOM group, specialists in rolling stock and electricity production.
Each train will have a minimum passenger capacity of 1,000 and will promote “low cost” fares (yet another coined anglicism). 
Eighteen trains will operate each day, 9 in each direction.

Sagrera Alta Velocitat

At this same meeting the Mayor presented a model showing the city’s vastest-ever building project, a new high-speed rail terminal in the Sagrera district of the city. Here are just one or two key features:
– The underground Sagrera station project will be linked to the regeneration not only of the Sagrera district, but also those of St Andreu and St Marti.
– A new tunnel 5.6 km long will link the existing Barcelona Sants station with the Sagrera. It will be bored beneath the streets of Mallorca and Provença.
– The Sagrera will be the terminal for trains to and from Madrid, Sevilla, Málaga, Valladolid and elsewhere right across the Iberian peninsula. Sants will receive the new TGVs from France. (And maybe Brussels later?)
– The complex will form part of a vast interchange with the metro, buses and taxis. – It will be at least half covered by a park with “abundant vegetation”.

© 2010 Basil Howitt

Leave a Comment