Spain's obsession with high-speed trains runs into budget reality

Mon Jun 17, 2013 1:34pm EDT
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By Julien Toyer

ONBOARD MADRID-ALICANTE HIGH-SPEED TRAIN (Reuters) - 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 Valencia government has pledged to complete the works but it is now not clear when and where it will be able to find the funds as it is already cutting spending on schools and hospitals as it tries to reduce a deficit.

Ximo Puig, the head of the Socialist opposition in Valencia, says 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.   Continued...

A passenger walks to board an AVE high-speed train at Antequera-Santa Ana train station, near Antequera, southern Spain June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Jon Nazca