Is France giving up on this border crossing with Spain?
France might not participate in the financing for the modernisation of the Pau-Canfranc-Zaragoza railway, one of the lines crossing the France-Spain border, closed since 1970. No budget was allocated for this project in a leaked version of the report made by the Infrastructure Orientation Council (COI), a French advisory body under the Ministry of Transport.
When it comes to the French-Spanish border, the document only mentions the railway section between Dax and Spain, which is part of the TEN-T Atlantic Corridor. The Pau-Canfranc-Zaragoza line, on the other hand, is located between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Corridors. While France is not planning on investing in this project, Spain has already allocated 82 million euros to finalise the track renewal.
The leaked document does not act as a definitive decision, but only has advice to the government. The document was leaked by Mobilettre, a French newspaper that focuses on transport. It includes a budget proposal for the government regarding investments in the rail sector over the next decade and a half. For some projects, financial plans have been made by the COI even up to 2042.
What to expect next for the Pau-Canfranc-Zaragoza line?
Some optimism concerning the project could be perceived after a meeting between the two countries in Barcelona in mid-January. Here, the Creloc, the Committee for the reopening of the Oloron-Canfranc line, urged the French government to commit to reopening the 33-kilometre-long section between Bedous and Canfranc. Despite the Committee’s optimism, from what can be understood from the leaked document, the French government might not be too keen to listen to Creloc.
Gerard Lopez, head of Creloc, was quoted by Spanish newspaper Heraldo stating that the outcome of the COI’s advice does not come as a surprise. In 2018, the Council adopted the same position of not mobilising national financing for this project, deeming it an infrastructure of local, rather than national, interest. According to Lopez, things could change with the intervention of Alain Rousset, the president of New Aquitaine, the French region involved in the project. Rousset has been in fact quite vocal on the importance of reopening the Pau-Canfranc-Zaragoza line.
Pau-Canfranc-Zaragoza line: past and present
Estimates from 2020 claimed that the project would cost between 360 and 480 million euros. However, the French government thinks that the costs would be higher, as the leaked document pointed out. The actions most needed to reactivate the line include arming the line for convoys at 22,5 tonnes per axle, building stations, removal of crossings, and modernising signaling and telecommunications.
The railway line between Pau and Zaragoza was closed in 1970 after a rail accident that destroyed the Estanguet bridge. The Spanish section remained open after the accident. By 2016, the French section from Pau to Bedous was reopened, but the border crossing line connecting Beodous to Canfranc was not. In February 2022, the Spanish and the French governments signed a joint declaration together with the Nouvelle Aquitaine and the Aragon regions. This document clearly stated the will to continue the project of restoration of the line.
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