The Círculo Mercantil de Málaga has held a conference on Axis 16, a central rail section with a trans-Pyrenean exit, a strategic project of enormous importance for Spain and more specifically for Andalusia and Malaga, since large-scale rail connections are essential for large international ports. . The meeting has also served to present in the city the working group organized to promote this vital infrastructure and which is one of the priorities of Spain and the European Union, formed by professionals, institutions and interests throughout Spain (Extremadura, Madrid, Aragón, Valencia, Andalusia …), among which the Círculo Mercantil is located in Málaga.
The speakers in charge of explaining the importance of this infrastructure in the assembly hall of the Chamber of Commerce of Malaga were Carlos Ramón Fernandez Liesa, Carlos III University professor and Diego Artigot Noguer, expert of the Council of Chambers of Commerce of Aragón, previous presentation and introduction of the theme of the president of the Mercantile Circle of Málaga, Federico Terrón.
The Central Crossing of the Pyrenees is a project that consists of joining the Spanish railway network to the European one through a high-performance corridor that crosses the central Pyrenees, through a low-level tunnel. Axis 16 is a vital project for improving the connections between Spain and the rest of the European Union, and despite being multimodal (for goods, people, vehicles, digital …) it would be highly beneficial for companies from the logistic point of view. It is a priority central corridor, with a high capacity and high performance, which starting from the ports of Sines (Lisbon) and Algeciras crosses the entire Iberian Peninsula (also benefiting ports such as Malaga) and the Pyrenees by means of a tunnel, to connect with Paris and from there with the rest of Europe,
For Spain it is a key project because it would optimize its preferential position in the global air and maritime navigation routes. Areas of production and consumption in Madrid, Andalusia, Aragon, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León and Extremadura would be greatly benefited. It is compatible and complementary with dry ports, airports and even with other railway corridors such as the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, and would help to revitalize the ’empty Spain’, the castles, Aragon, Madrid. It would make a fundamental geostrategic work as a backbone and ‘rebalancing’. Getting a new outlet through the center of the Pyrenees is essential for economic, logistical, social, environmental, cultural and geopolitical reasons.
In a country with ports as important as Algeciras, Malaga, Castellón, Valencia, Barcelona … it is essential to have a railway corridor with an important dedication to the goods that connect with Europe. Rail freight traffic in Spain is currently very low, at 4%, compared to the average of 15% in Europe. This makes us much less competitive than other countries, it is a very big disadvantage for our industry. This would give meaning to the logistics and port projects of Andalusia and Malaga in our specific case. The ports of Sines and Algeciras, for example, are located in the 50 main maritime routes in the world.
The speakers this afternoon have agreed on the need to strive to accelerate as much as possible this Axis 16 and turn it into a matter of state before Europe, since it is fundamental for the economic and social development of our territories and for the generation of GDP in Europe.
It is also completely viable, as there are studies that support that the corridor would have enough traffic to be profitable. In Spain 75% of the entire axis is already done. Missing the low-level tunnel of just over 41 kilometers (central crossing) that connects Spain with France. The latest evaluations spoke of a total investment of only 9,000 or 10,000 million euros, including the tunnel. Its cost is reduced because it uses the old network now underutilized as a result of the new high-speed lines.
There is currently extreme saturation in both road and rail traffic between Spain and France. The movement of goods is subject to the demand of passenger traffic, so any sudden rise in this hinders access to markets. The corridor of international width and great capacity allows to give exit without stop the goods that cross in Pirineo.
Axis 16 would completely eliminate the historic bottleneck that forms in the Pyrenees. The economic boost that would be key, promoting employment and technological development. It coheses and enriches the territories through which it passes, creating a corridor of industrial activities and services from north to south, with staggered logistics platforms for regional development.
Moreover, with the entry into Europe of the Eastern countries, the new European centrality is further away, the western and southern part of Europe is geographically more distant from the center of Europe. So even that less ability to compete on equal terms is aggravated. This railway axis would serve decisively to mitigate this decentralization and improve Spanish competitiveness with respect to countries such as Italy that have much higher cross-border connections.
Until 2011, Axis 16 was a priority issue for Europe. But in that year there was a review and its completion and implementation was postponed until at least 2030. Now the European funds coming to Spain are for the Atlantic and South corridor. But they are not exclusive projects. In fact strategically, Axis 16 is much more important than the rest.
Currently there is a draft proposal pending discussion in the European Council and the European Parliament, but as it is proposed it is very difficult for Axis 16 to be financed by Europe for this next period 2021-2027.
On June 6, 2018, the European Commission presented the new draft document on corridors. The total budget for all of Europe is 30,615 million euros (for the period 2021-2027). 11,285 are for countries of cohesion among which Spain is not. 6,500 million for military mobility. And the available credit that Spain would have access to along with other countries in Europe is 12,800 million euros in total.
In addition, from the environmental point of view, Axis 16 is a very beneficial project. Of the 240 million tons of merchandise that cross the Pyrenees annually, including the maritime one, the traffic by rail is only 2%.
The Central Crossing of the Pyrenees through a low-level railway tunnel will allow the decongestion of activities and traffic in large towns and metropolitan areas, rebalancing flows and boosting logistics platforms and dry ports. And all this with the minimum environmental impact. The low level tunnel leaves the landscape intact, preserving nature and means an annual saving of thousands of tons of Co2 emitted. The construction of the axis would also contribute to achieving the objectives set out in the white paper on transport, which aims that 30% of the goods transported in Europe are carried out by alternative means to the road in 2030 and that this quota is of 50% in 2050.