Correspondent in Lisbon
The only train between Portugal and Spain, neighboring countries that share the Iberian Peninsula but turn their backs on rail communications, will recover its two daily frequencies from October 17. It is the connection between Vigo and Porto, an unusually exceptional link between the two southern European nations, the same ones that do not have a route from capital to capital because the Madrid-Lisbon route went to the trunk of memories last March.
This is the (unusual) reality of Portuguese-Spanish transport in the XXI century, harmed by the lack of investment by the Portuguese Government and by the Renfe’s laziness, which first let Talgo’s daytime line between the two main cities die out and then saw the nocturnal express between Santa Apolónia and Chamartín languish, which took no less than 10 and a half hours. With this premise, who can be surprised that we were facing an unprofitable track? The consequence was that the wagon doors were closed permanently.
Almost two years after this train became famous all over the world because it was chosen by the young Swedish social activist Greta thunberg To travel from Lisbon to Madrid in a less polluting environment than the plane, the roar of its engine can no longer be heard on the platforms near the Alfama, the neighborhood of the houses of fado.
“Does this seem normal to you?”, “How is it possible?” «Lisbon-Madrid nothing, and now Porto-Vigo as a unique alternative to go by train from one country to another, a not exactly pragmatic itinerary for those who live between the extensive strip that goes from Zamora to Huelva, passing through Salamanca or Extremadura »… are the comments and criticisms that proliferate on the networks words that ignite the spirits of both Portuguese and Spanish citizens, again with no other choice but to get used to the two hours and 20 minutes to travel the distance of 150 kilometers (stops included).
The initiative does not represent any extra budget, since the machines and the tracks were already there. At least, the visitor can benefit from a special price per direction: from October 17 to December 11, only 5.25 euros in a promotional rate that seeks to encourage the influx of tourists or for work reasons.
Nine in the morning and eight o’clock in the afternoon are the departure times from Vigo, while Porto sees the railway depart at 8.15 in the morning and at 19.10.
The train provides service between these two cities, but it also allows getting on or off at other key points on the Galician-Portuguese border, such as Viana do Castelo, Valença do Minho or the Pontevedra town of Tuy.
It cannot be forgotten that rail transport between Portugal and Spain was suspended, within the containment plan to curb the spread of the coronavirus. At that time, the measure fundamentally affected the two most important lines that communicated the two countries: Lisbon-Madrid and Vigo-Porto. The first of them, already in deficit due to its slowness and high rates, ended up being closed later due to the zero profitability of its exploitation.
This circumstance joined the blocking the entrance of Spanish tourists through the land border posts, which came into effect on March 16, 2020 and was in force until after Easter. Controls began to be increasingly severe, with Portuguese officials adequately protected, and only justified displacements were authorized for reasons of work or force majeure.
Nevertheless, it was not contemplated to interrupt the free movement of goods, since the supply was essential to avoid the daily collapse of both countries.
It happened that hundreds of Spaniards living in the cities near the border in the areas of Salamanca, Zamora, Cáceres, Badajoz or Huelva crossed to the other side during the weekends with the purpose of buying products whose shortage began to be noticed in Spain. Given the difficulties by train and the meager connections, it was by road that these transfers were most often carried out. But the severity of movement restriction between the two countries, which made the jump seemed more complicated.
«We have decided to always act together in the management of our common border, maintain the free movement of goods and guaranteeing the rights of cross-border workers ”, then underlined the Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, from Lisbon.
It was the same president, who, however, never clearly positioned himself on the importance of enhance a good connection railway no longer between the two countries, but above all between Lisbon and Madrid, unusually converted into the only two neighboring European capitals that lack trains to travel from one to the other. An unfortunate record.