Monoderailed: Spain's Train-Station-To-Nowhere
Just as California is attempting to round up the financing for its miracle-on-rails high-speed train, so Spain is finding out the reality of the over-promised and under-funded phoenix-like expectations of their own high-speed rail project. From exaggerated passenger traffic expectations 40% higher than the current slower route's traffic to the massive billion-euro debts that have already been accumulated, nothing says epic fail like the City of Villena's 4,500 square meter gleaming new train station - the only access to this building-in-the-middle-of-nowhere is a dirt track used by local farmers. The reason - simple - while the central government financed the building, the local Valencia regional government was responsible for funding the connection to the local city and freeways - it ran out of money, leaving the station high-and-dry. As Reuters adds, the disconnect says a lot about both Spain and its current finances, about a love affair with grand projects to showcase its modernity and a diminishing ability to pay for them.
A one-track dirt road used by local farmers is the main access to a magnificent glass-and-steel train station in the small city of Villena, on Spain's latest high-speed rail route.
It is a spanking new 4,500 square meter building - essentially in the middle of nowhere.
The central government financed the rail route, inaugurated on Monday, between Madrid and Alicante on the Costa Blanca. The Valencia regional government was supposed to fund works to connect it to the nearby motorway and Villena, home to 35,000.
But it ran out of money, leaving the station high and dry.
The disconnect says a lot about both Spain and its current finances, about a love affair with grand projects to showcase its modernity and a diminishing ability to pay for them.
... the station is likely to become yet another white elephant in a country where dozens of airports, train stations, motorways or cultural centers built during a decade-long property boom are under-used or have been abandoned.
"The new route was a much needed infrastructure but there was a lot of improvisation and a complete lack of planning and it could all come to nothing, starting with Villena," he told Reuters in a telephone interview on Monday.
"Despite our budget woes, one of the objectives of the government is to stimulate investments that are truly productive so that they'll contribute to the shared objective of the government and the society: the economic recovery and job creation," he said.
On many routes, Spanish cities lack the critical size to make the system sustainable, partly explaining why the state-owned Renfe train operator and Adif station and rail company are losing money.
Renfe has a 5 billion-euro debt while Adif, rated as junk by Moody's investors service, has debt of more than 11 billion euros.
The government aimed to avoid repeating previous mistakes on the Madrid-Alicante line by using second-hand trains and reducing the number of daily train journeys. But the 2-billion-euro project may struggle for profitability.
The biggest town on the route is Albacete with only 170,000 inhabitants and the cost of a ticket for a return trip between Madrid and Alicante on the coast - 125 euros - will be unaffordable for most Spaniards.
The official projection for passenger capacity on the route was raised by 40 percent to put it at 2.2 million people every year, twice the number of people who used the 50-minutes-slower existing train service in 2012.
But on board the opening train and at the unfinished stations along the route, there was little enthusiasm.