March 24, 2023

Brussels has once again included the so-called “Ruta de la Plata” in the global network of rail and transport corridors at a European level (TEN-T Network) despite the fact that it has been closed for almost four decades. This railway line crossed Spain from north to south, from Gijón to Seville, through provinces and towns in the west such as Astorga (León), Zamora, Salamanca or Plasencia (Cáceres). This purely administrative movement gives hope for a future reopening -total or partial- of the section, or the design of a new railway infrastructure updated to the requirements of today’s trains. These are used from the territories that were left without a train, affected by the closure of the route between Astorga and Plasencia in 1985.

In December 2021, due to the revision of the transport network regulation, the European Commission deleted the ‘Ruta de la Plata’ from the European rail corridors. This figure makes it possible to establish a series of guidelines that guide investments in countries, facilitate access to financing or reduce socioeconomic disparities between regions. Brussels erased the line from the map without the Government of Spain having ordered anything in this regard, according to sources from the Ministry of Transport, something that received criticism from the proclaimed ‘Empty Spain’.

In January 2022, one month after the error was published, the General Secretariat for Infrastructure sent a letter to the General Director of Mobility and Transport of the European Commission in which it requested that the rail route between Plasencia and León be maintained within the global network of the TEN-T Regulation. “His absence must be an error, since this elimination is not required in any official communication,” say sources from the competent Ministry. The European Commission claimed, instead, that the Spanish government had requested its removal.

On December 5, 2022, the Council of Transport Ministers of the European Union gave its go-ahead to reincorporate this route into the global network, both for goods and passengers. This despite the fact that on January 1 the 38th anniversary of the closure of the 331 kilometers of roads that ran through Cáceres, Salamanca, Zamora and Leon was commemorated. This closure was decided by the government of Felipe González as part of a political strategy to save costs for the State, a plan that was justified by the fact that the line had “little freight and passenger traffic.”

A strategic line with the roads cut

Almost forty years without trains have meant that a large part of the line is dismantled, after the network manager itself, Adif, chose to remove the tracks at certain points in Castilla y León. Another part of the route, between Alba de Tormes and Carbajosa de la Sagrada (Salamanca), became a greenway in 2015, a name given to the train lines converted for tourist use by cyclists or pedestrians. In other locations, the tracks have also been dismantled or their level crossings have been covered by asphalt.

The last steps of the public administration contrast with the hopes of a hypothetical reopening. In April 2022, Adif agreed to assign a 56-kilometre section between Navalmoral de Béjar and Alba de Tormes to expand the existing greenway. Fifteen municipalities integrated into the Vía de la Plata Salamanca-Sur Association will be in charge of managing it for the next 20 years, in order to boost tourism and economically its environment.

These movements are screeching when compared to the instructions that were given in the construction of infrastructure carried out in recent years, such as the dual carriageway. Despite intersecting with the old track at various points, it respected the railway line at all times. Sources from the railway sector attribute this decision to a possible strategic role in the event that the defense of the nation has to be exercised, for which reason it would continue to be part of the strategic transport maps of the Ministry of Defense.

Claiming the Empty Spain

The reopening of the western Spanish railway is an old demand of the towns and provinces through which this train circulated. Recently, the España Vaciada platform has also assumed the claim within its aspiration to collect the dissatisfied vote of depopulated regions. The demand has also reached Extremadura, whose Economic and Social Council requested the reopening as the best option to improve connectivity between Spain and Portugal through the Atlantic Corridor, joining other groups that also advocate improving the connections of the ‘ray’ .

In November 2017, the Congress of Deputies received a non-legal proposal to study the reopening of the route. Envolvenero de 2022, Vox took the proposal to the Lower House, criticizing that the parties that make up the government coalition -PSOE and Unidas Podemos- requested its reopening from the opposition but did not opt ​​to reopen it today: “the actions of the Government current only denote the intention to abandon this line completely”, they assured in their letter. The idea has also received recent support from 12 Chambers of Commerce.

Together with the reinstatement of the Ruta de la Plata in the TEN-T network, the Government wanted the EU to approve the inclusion of the Santander-Bilbao line in the extended basic network with a view to developing this rail route before the year 2050. proposal was not accepted by the European ministers. The minister of the branch, Raquel Sánchez, asked to include it in the trans-European network because it is “an itinerary that must be included in the Atlantic Corridor”. Despite the rejection, she stated that they would continue “working on its definition and development”.

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