After two years of expectancy, the government’s railway master-plan has yet to leave the station.
Ferrovia 2020 was presented in 2016 by the Planning and Infrastructure Minister, Pedro Marquês - by now 528 kilometres of railway should be under construction or being upgraded in a major boost to the nation's rail network.
The actual number of kilometres being attended to is 79, with the government blaming “delays in the study phase” - the very start of the process and a long way from getting engineers and construction workers on the ground to complete the promised projects.
Marquês guaranteed the nation 1,193 kilometres of new or improved railway line and has failed, even though some of the stretches included in Ferrovial 2020 in fact were relatively simple and long-overdue maintenance projects.
Of the 10 projects that, according to its own schedule, Infraestruturas de Portugal already should be overseeing, only two have started and four projects, costing €165 million, should already have been completed.
One of the more spectacular foul-ups is the Caíde to Marco section on the Douro line whose modernisation should have finished sometime in 2016. The 14 kilometres of single track had work halted “due to insufficient planning by Infraestruturas de Portugal” and the inability of the contractor to do the work. The contract has been cancelled and not renewed.
In Évora, a nine kilometre section has not started as “locals objected.”
Infraestruturas de Portugal blames the Court of Auditors for some delays as it has failed to authorise some of the construction contracts but the main reason this shambles has happened is the merging of the rail company, Refer, and the road company, Estradas de Portugal, in an expensive reorganisation which resulted in the road company becoming the leading discipline in the merged business.
The largest failure is the €691 million Beira Alta line, which the government wants to call the Northern International Corridor as it sounds sexier. There are 251 kilometres of line that should be well underway but this tricky when a contractor has yet to be appointed.
According to a source from the Ministry of Planning and Infrastructure, "as in all Ferrovial 2020 projects, this project, contrary to what would have been expected, did not have the respective studies developed, namely at the technical and environmental level."
How this is a surprise is not explained as it would have been obvious, even as Marquês proudly announced his railways investment, that these major projects were still on the drawing board and nowhere near the stage needed for the work to start.
This list of excuses is a long and unimpressive with projects “still under study” or delayed by the need for entirely predictable environmental impact assessments.