France and Spain linked
By Sandy Guthrie28 January 2011
The opening of the 44,4 km railway section from Perpignan in France to Figueras in Catalonia links the Spanish and French networks, and is expected to cut journey times significantly.
Suitable for both high-speed rail and freight transport, the section was officially opened in the presence of the Spanish Minister of Development, Jose Blanco López, the French Secretary of State for Transport, Thierry Mariani, and the European co-ordinator Carlo Secchi, on behalf of the European Commission.
Mr Secchi, who is responsible on behalf of the Commission for co-ordinating high-speed rail links in south-west Europe, including the Madrid-Barcelona-Lyon line, said: "This link between the two main high-speed rail European networks overcomes an historical natural barrier. The new cross-border section represents a major achievement for the internal market and for the mobility of citizens. I am proud the European Union played such an essential role in making this possible."
The cross-border section, ensuring the first interoperable connection between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of the European Union, was completed in 2009, and its implementation was made possible by Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) co-financing of € 69,75 million, which represents 25% of the costs of works.
Works for its connection to the Spanish network were completed in December 2010. As a result, trains in standard - "European" - gauge can now travel across, linking the two largest European high-speed networks.
The Spanish high-speed network is in standard gauge, while the conventional lines, including the old border crossing, are in the wider Iberian gauge. This section overcomes this problem which so far had been limiting cross-border flows. The line passes through the new 8 km Pertus tunnel. High-speed trains can run on it at 350 km/h.
The new international services reduce journey time from Barcelona to the French network by about an hour, and are said to have already proved to be a commercial success.
The full completion of the high-speed line between Barcelona and the cross-border section, expected for 2012, will bring Barcelona to just 50 minutes from Perpignan - instead of more than 3 hours 30 minutes today. It is expected to enhance rail flows both for passengers and freight, efficiently connecting two of the most important cities and Mediterranean ports - Barcelona and Valencia - to the rest of the EU rail network.
The full Mediterranean arc from Valencia to Lyon is expected to be operational in 2020. By that time, travelling from Barcelona to Paris will take only 4 hours 30 minutes instead of 8 hours. The journey from Barcelona to Lyon will take only 2 hours 40 minutes.