Not only
is Granada an international tourist destination with hardly any international
flights (see blog #post27); its overland connections are not all that good,
either. In fact, if you come to Granada, you are most likely to arrive by bus.
(On a typical day, there are 16 arrivals from Malaga at the bus station and no
direct trains; for Madrid the corresponding numbers are 13 by bus and 3 by
train; for Barcelona, 4 and 2.)

The
project to connect Granada to Madrid and via Barcelona to France by means of
the prestigious AVE network is not looking very promising. AVE means ‘bird’ and
it is an acronym for ‘alta velocidad’ – high speed – and it refers to the
high-speed rail network that enables the train to compete with air travel thanks
to its speeds exceeding 300 kph.

Well,
Granada is going to get its AVE one day in an uncertain future, but, in
contrast to the rest of Spain and Europe, it will probably be a low-speed AVE.

The first
apparently insuperable obstacle to a high-speed AVE connection is the 18
kilometre stretch of rail through Loja, the only stretch that remains
unfinished. The austerity-conditioned plan is to leave it unfinished and
instead to use the existing railway line; a line that consists of 100-year-old
tunnels, level crossings and viaducts too narrow for the wide-gauge AVE tracks,
and sharp bends that cut maximum speeds down to around 50kph.

The
austerity modifications would also mean that goods and passenger traffic would
have to share one single electrified track. And although the line passes
through the north zone of Loja there will be no stop here to serve the local
population.

Some local environmentalists might be happy about the abandonment of the AVE
through the Loja region because of the feared environmental impact it would
have, especially on the groundwater levels of the region, although AVE
aficionados say due preventive measures have already been taken.

Money: 900 million euros have already been spent on the 80% of the stretch from
Antequera to Granada that have already been built. This stretch is double track,
involving several kilometres of tunnels and viaducts, and allows passenger and
goods trains to run independently of each other, and at speeds of up to 340kph.
Much of the value of this investment would be cancelled out if it runs into an
18-kilometre bottleneck at Loja.

The other
stumbling block is the location of the AVE station in Granada. Two years ago an
agreement was reached between central government, the regional government of
Andalucía and the city council to develop the present station in the Avenida de Andaluces for AVE arrivals, the
train entering the city underground, beneath the Chana neighbourhood in the
south-west. The high-speed rail network will now stop short of Granada City and
passengers will have to make the last leg of their journey – by bus?

Maybe
not. The government has promised the AVE station will definitely be on the
spanking new and even by Granada standards astonishingly delayed Metro network.
Finishing date? It will be, they say, in the outskirts of the city, where it
will connect with the ‘Mediterranean Corridor’ rail project, which aims to link
Barcelona, Valencia, Murcia, and Malaga by 2030 if we’re lucky.

Either
way, with the low-speed AVE, travelling times to and from Madrid will not be
reduced much from the current 4.5 hours (about the same as it takes by bus).

The unwillingness
to make the investment to finish the AVE project properly and the apparent positioning
of Granada as an outpost of an extremely long-term Mediterranean Corridor project
do not augur well for the ‘city where anything is possible’ but very little
actually achieved – and when it is, probably a bit shoddily, and much too late.

The
original estimated date for the completion of the high-speed AVE to Granada was
2007. Today they are talking vaguely of 2020, for the low-speed version.

It looks
as if the popular tourist destination of Granada will continue to test the
determination of those visitors who want to get here to enjoy its magic for
quite a while yet.

This blog
relies heavily on articles in
El Pais
by Valme Cortés, especially one dated 18.12.12. It also makes use of
Granada Hoy agency articles that
appeared on 30 and 31.1.13.