Sunday Open Thread

Jun 28th, 2009 | Posted by

by Robert Cruickshank

Back in the USA after two wonderful weeks in Portugal. There was a fair bit of HSR news while I was over there – the ruling Socialist Party made the surprising announcement that the final decision to move ahead with the planned HSR line to connect Lisboa to Madrid was going to be postponed until 2010, after this year’s legislative elections. The PS and its prime minister, José Sócrates, are worried about losing to the rival Social Democrats (PSD), who are not exactly strong supporters of the line even though Portugal and Spain have signed agreements to build it, and even though the EU has already planned to contribute financially to the project.

The PS wants to make the PSD look uninterested in solving the economic crisis, and Sócrates seems to think that making an election issue out of the HSR project would give his party a boost, as the proposal is generally popular with the public, and Portugal doesn’t have to foot the entire bill. But the nakedly political ploy could well backfire. The EU was not pleased with the postponement, and Portugal’s president, Aníbal Cavaco Silva (of the PSD), had to step in to ease concerns and promised that the project would still go forward. News reports spun it as a sign of weakness on the part of Sócrates and the PS.

So we will see what happens. I’m still getting over jet lag, so use this as an open thread. Tomorrow I’ll be back to discuss our own HSR project here in California.

  1. jim
    Jun 28th, 2009 at 21:38
    #1

    06/26/2009 GAAS:335:09 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Recovery Task Force Issues Statement on Additional $70 Million in Recovery Funds Obligated to California Transportation
    http://gov.ca.gov/index.php?/press-release/12593/

  2. Rafael
    Jun 29th, 2009 at 11:21
    #2

    Welcome back Robert! Hope you had a great vacation.

    As for the Lisboa-Madrid HSR line, I'm positive it will get built. The Portuguese know full well that like many other European countries, they lack domestic sources of petroleum and are too small to assert military control over smaller ones. Not even the US can do that these days.

    Add to that concerns about global warming and the upshot is that the next generation in Portugal may no longer be able to afford long-distance mobility based on petroleum distillates.

    Since the only land routes into mainland Europe run through Spain, there's really not a whole lot of choice but to expand the electrified rail network using standard rather than Iberian gauge. Along with faster passenger service, there will also be expanded transnational rail freight capacity, though mostly on separate rails.

  3. Rafael
    Jun 29th, 2009 at 11:23
    #3

    Oops -

    … assert military control over smaller ones …

    should read:

    … assert military control over foreign ones …

    Sorry for the confusion.

  4. Robert Cruickshank
    Jun 29th, 2009 at 14:04
    #4

    Doesn't hurt either that the recent polls suggest the PS is going to win another big victory, and that the parties that are benefiting from the economic crisis and discontent at José Sócrates are the left-wing parties, which may make their best showing in years.

    Agree that the Lisboa-Madrid HSR line will indeed get built. Just interesting to see the political games being played over it. It's a high-profile issue over there; led all the evening news reports on RTP.

  5. Rafael
    Jun 29th, 2009 at 15:09
    #5

    @ Robert Cruickshank -

    I can't recall any large express HSR project anywhere that wasn't a major political issue at the time: the Tohoku shinkansen, TGV Sud-Est, HS1 and now HS2 in the UK, HSL Zuid in Holland, S2000 in Sweden, Madrid-Sevilla in Spain, Taiwan HSR etc. Provided the starter line eventually attracts sufficient ridership, there is usually support for network expansion – even if the original project was late or ran over budget.

    However, it's not necessarily true that left-wing governments are more likely to commission HSR projects in Europe than conservative ones. In the UK, for example, HS2 is being pushed hardest by the opposition parties.

  6. Devil’s Advocate
    Jun 29th, 2009 at 16:23
    #6

    Rafael is right! In many instances center-right political forces in Europe are the ones pushing for HSR, whereas the center-left forces tend to oppose it. Partly on environmental grounds (HSR lines disrupt landscape too, and tunneling had some negative impact on hydrology), and partly on social grounds because HSR investment has come to the expense of upgrading regional commuter trains. It's become a class warfare, with the center-left accusing the center-right of favoring investment in the HSR, which is perceived as the transportation for the business elite (most heavy users are business travelers), at the expense of commuter trains which are used primarily by daily working class commuters. The line Madrid-Lisbon is probably a good investment since it connects two populous metro areas about 400 miles apart and the segment doesn't seem to present major orographic challenges. Nevertheless, when you use public money for major infrastructures there is going to be debate over what projects deserve priority. For some reason here in America the political forces for and against HSR seem to be reversed, with the left supporting it and the right opposing it. Go figure!

  7. Francis
    Jun 29th, 2009 at 21:53
    #7

    Also in there is the element of privatization. The government pay and builds the line then eventually end up privatizing it, especially in the rail industry. Thats why the Labour party in the UK are more opposed to them. Privatization was a big issue when I lived there but then again I was in middle school so didnt follow it that closely.

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