Granada has
been almost completely cut off from the national rail network for three years.
The last train to arrive in Granada from Madrid, Barcelona, or Seville was on 7
April 2015. Since then, if you wanted to travel to Granada overland by public
transport, you would have to complete your journey by coach.

When
the train service between Granada and Antequera, some 100 kilometres to the
west, was interrupted over three years ago, they said it would be for a period
of between four and six months while work on the ‘first phase’ of the
high-speed rail link was being completed.

I first
discussed the problematic execution of the high-speed rail link to Granada five
years ago in February 2013 (#post 29) under the title ‘Low-speed AVE’, AVE
being short for ‘alta velocidad
(high-speed) at the same time as having the meaning of ‘bird’: a train that
‘flies’ like a bird, get it? The post referred to proposed compromises being
imposed by austerity measures which would increase the journey time by up to 45
minutes and thus compromise the whole purpose of the project.

My last two posts bore the heading
‘No-Speed AVE’ and date from January and February 2017 (#post 54 & 56). The
heading refers to the abandonment of any concrete commitment by the central
government to completing the work at all within a specific time frame.

On Sunday 8
April some 5000 people took to the streets in the rain to mark the unfortunate
third anniversary and to make a fresh demand for a commitment from the
government with concrete dates regarding the inauguration of the AVE service to
Granada. The main points of contention are the trajectory of a short-ish
stretch of line through Loja, a town fifty kilometres west of Granada, and the
last few kilometres into the city, via the western Chana suburb. A prompt
conclusion of the speed trials through Loja was called for, as well as an
underpass to avoid splitting the Chana neighbourhood in two. (Source: Javier
Morales, Ideal newspaper, Monday 9 April 2018.)

For a
tourist destination such as Granada is, the three-year hiatus in train services
has of course been fairly catastrophic. The Provincial
Government of Granada reckons losses of around 400 million euros in terms of
lost income from tourists who would have visited Granada if there had been a
decent high-speed train service, or, indeed, any sort of train service. In
fact, the number of visitors to Granada has by and large maintained its 2014
level, because people have continued wanting to come here in spite of all the
odds, and inconvenience.

In
2014 a total of 647,000 passengers passed through the station. In 2017 this
figure had fallen to 321,393, a loss of 51%. The night train to Barcelona, it is
reckoned, has lost 77% of its passengers: from 100,000 in 2014 to barely 19,000
in 2016, recovering slightly to 22,000 in 2017. The Madrid connection is almost
as badly affected, with a loss of 40% of its passengers, from 157,000 in 2014
to 94,000 in 2017. The accumulated loss of passengers over the three years has
been calculated at around 850,000, adding up to a huge loss of income for
RENFE, the state railway company, on top of the 7.3 million euros that the
government has had to pay on substitute coaches to freight passengers between
Granada and Antequera. (Source: M. V. Cobo, Ideal newspaper, Sunday 8 April
2018.)

A major stumbling block to the completion of the long awaited high-speed
connection has been the San Francisco tunnel in Loja. The nineteenth century
tunnel is only a couple of hundred metres long, but it is curved, and leaves
only a space of some 70 centimetres between the train and the tunnel wall. This
is safe for conventional trains travelling at 30 or 50 kph, but surely less so,
in spite of the train line’s assurances to the contrary, for an AVE whooshing
through at around 300. Anyway, trials are being carried out, though nobody is
willing to give any details about how far these have progressed, or how much
longer they are likely to last, or when they are likely to be finished.
(Source: M. V. Cobo again, as above.)

Work on the track itself is finished, they say, but there are still
‘complementary activities’ to be carried out, such as the gentrification of the
station area in Granada, completing the enclosure of the whole length of the
line, and anti-erosion work on the embankments. At the same time, something
called structural tests are being carried out. These should be completed in
May. Only then can the training of train drivers (no pun) be started as this
has to be done over the new trajectory itself so the drivers can familiarise
themselves with its unique characteristics.

Although the Government initially promised to issue monthly reports on
the progress of work on the line, they have had nothing to say since October
2017. In the meantime, RENFE has extended its contracts with the bus companies
to October 2018.