Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 28.6.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • Under her new government, Spain is moving towards the legalisation of euthanasia. See here and here.
  • Below is the translation of an article – HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for this – on a scathing report on scandalous wastage on the EU's high speed trains, with specific reference to Spanish instances. Can anyone really be surprised?
  • Another HT to Lenox for this insight into how countries project themselves internationally. Spain comes in at 11th out of 110. This good ranking reflects a high rating for her 'soft presence', which has risen virtually every year since 2010 - as a result of the increased contributions of culture, tourism and migration. The contribution of the soft dimension to Spain’s global presence rose from 25% in 2010 to 32% last year. So that: Close to 60% of Spain’s presence in the Index is now due to its soft dimension. Spain received close to 82m tourists in 2017, the second largest number in the world, and at the beginning of 2018 the number of foreigners in Spain stood at 4.7m.
Life in Spain
  • This is The Local's guide to Madrid's Gay Pride festivities. Perhaps 'extravaganda' would be a better word.
Germany/The USA
  • Grenell is an [US]ambassador who seems tailor-made to exacerbate Germany's new tensions. It is hard to overstate just how brashly he has charged onto the Berlin political scene during his first month in town. A good choice, then. Image and likeness.
The World
  • Hmm . . . North Korea  has continued to upgrade its only known nuclear reactor used to fuel its weapons program, satellite imagery has shown, despite ongoing negotiations with the US and a pledge to denuclearise. A great deal, then. 
  • Local papers have taken up the reports of the deficiencies of the AVE high speed train, pointing out that on the only bit we currently have – Vigo-La Coruña – our trains travel at only half the speed the system was designed for. More seriously, if and when we have a connection with Madrid, there will still be 17km in and around Ourense which will be old track. Meaning the train will have to slow down to a snail's pace. Probably for an absolute minimum of 10 years. IGIMSTS.
  • A friend yesterday gave me a a book containing Healthy and Economic Recipes Created by Galicia's Best Chefs. It contains some lovely stuff but, unfortunately, it fell open at the page for Cow's snout in tripe sauce. Not exactly my favourite dish. Twice over.
  • There's a particularly dangerous stretch on the Camino de Santiago just north of Pontevedra, where you come down onto a main road and walk for a while where there's no real pavement. This foto adorned an article on how the local police are helping to ensure there aren't (more ) accidents there.
I do hope the policeman shown had actually stopped the traffic behind him and was not just watching the high number of 'pilgrims' who'd just joined the road so that he could call an ambulance if they'd been mown down . . . This, by the way, is the local place where trucks most frequently hit a low bridge.

The World Cup
  • VAR failure:At least one more example of excellent pictures and a poor referee interpretation of them. A major problem that needs to be sorted. As I've suggested, maybe take the decision away from the ref.
  • VAR success: The South Korean goal initially judged to be offside, after the player had been 'played on'. Leaving us all very sad that Germany were on their way out . . .
  • Germany: Last week friend in Hamburg sent me a cartoon, showing the team bus in the short-stay car park at Frankfurt airport. He insisted there was no optimism in Germany. I can see why now.
  • A sports writer on El País has had a real go at the country's team: Spain’s national team has forgotten how to play soccer, and is instead engaged in making mere plays, ones that have at least been sufficient to see them reach the quarter finals in the Russia 2018 World Cup. . . . . Spain’s performance has been getting progressively worse during the World Cup so far, and was riddled with faults in last night’s match. . . . Spain has lost its authority, dominance, rhythm, order and dynamism, and is frozen stiff on the field and on the bench. More here. By 'soccer' is meant 'football', of course. Not for the first time, I note that the translator is American.
Finally . . .
  • Here's an example of the footballese of British commentators who are ex players: It's X that's came[sic] across to take that ball . . I think this construction is called the 'footballers' present perfect tense', used when normal use would be the simple past. In this case augmented by the wrong past participle. So, a mixture of 2 past tenses - present perfect and simple.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 28.6.18


The six most absurd AVE projects in Spain and the European Union

The EU Court of Auditors denounces that the European high-speed rail network as a patchwork of poorly connected national lines.

The European high-speed rail network is merely a patchwork of national lines without proper cross-border coordination and has been planned and built by the Member States in isolation, resulting in poor connections, according to the latest report by the EU Court of Auditors. The auditors conclude that much of the €23.7 billion that Brussels has invested in high-speed rail since 2000 - in addition to a further €30 billion in soft loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB) - has been wasted on projects that provide little Community added value.

The decision to build high-speed lines in the EU is often based on political considerations and not on cost-benefit analyses, which are often not carried out, the study criticises. Cost overruns and delays are the rule rather than the exception. Trains run at much lower speeds than expected (45% on average). And in many cases the number of passengers carried is much lower than previously estimated, which jeopardises the viability of the connections.

All these problems affect Spain in particular, which has the second largest high-speed network in the world, after China. Our country is the main beneficiary of European aid for the AVE: between 2000 and 2017 it received a total of 11.2 billion euros from Brussels, a figure that represents 47% of the subsidies distributed. However, the main problems of overcharging have not been recorded in Spain (where the maximum is 38.5% on the Madrid-Barcelona line) but in Germany (which reaches 622% on the Stuttgart-Munich line). 

The European Court of Auditors' devastating report on Spain's high-speed rail system

1. Works that ends 6 km from the border

In times of economic boom, a high-speed line was planned to connect Madrid to Lisbon. When the debt crisis broke out, the project was considered too expensive and came to a standstill, even though the EU had already paid 43 million to Portugal for studies and preparatory work. The Portuguese conventional railway line now stops at the town of Évora, about 100 kilometres from Badajoz. On the Spanish side, at the time of the audit, the works on the high-speed railway line were stopped six kilometres from the border. Both Portugal and Spain are now interested in reviving the project.

2. Iberia gauge survives

Although one of the reasons for building a high-speed network with Spain from scratch was to improve connections with the rest of the EU using the European gauge. The auditors' report denounces that the Spanish gauge still survives in important sections and makes this connectivity difficult: on the Atlantic Axis in Galicia, part of the Madrid-Galicia line and the Madrid-Extremadura line. The result is that on these sections the maximum speed that can be reached is 250 km/h instead of 350 km/h. And track gauge changers are needed. In January 2017, there were 20 such exchangers in Spain, costing around 8 million each and for which Brussels has provided funding of 5.4 million.

3. Train and track changes at the border

There are also problems in the connection between Spain and France via the Basque Country. As the stretch between Bordeaux and the Spanish border is not a priority for the Paris government, the border infrastructure is outdated and incompatible with a modern high-speed network. France does not want to invest in this infrastructure and has not asked Brussels for subsidies. But this will have a negative impact on Spain and Portugal's connections to the EU network in the Atlantic Corridor. In the Spanish part of the border, work continues on connecting the Basque Y with the rest of the Spanish high-speed network. The result of this dissonance is that at Hendaye station all passengers have to change platform and train to cross the border.

4. Cost overruns and station delays 

The high-speed train station in the German city of Stuttgart is the single most expensive individual project in the EU (86%). The infrastructure has received 726.6 million in grants from Brussels. Construction costs have skyrocketed due to unrealistic initial estimates of what tunneling would entail in a densely populated urban centre and the lack of sufficient assessment of the geological, environmental and cultural heritage impact. The price of 4.5 billion euros that had been calculated in 2003 increased to 6.5 billion in 2013 and 8.2 billion in 2018. The start of construction work was delayed from 2001 to 2009 and according to the latest estimates the work will not be completed until 2025 (the initial deadline was 2008).

5. Stops without connections or passengers

The study examines the accessibility and connectivity of 18 high-speed stations and concludes that access to 14 of them could be improved. The most emblematic case is the TGV station in Meuse, in the Greater East region of France: it is located in an isolated location in the countryside and the only way to get there is by private car and a couple of local bus lines. The auditors also consider that it is inefficient to keep some stations on the Madrid-Barcelona-French border line open (in particular Guadalajara-Yebes and Calatayud) because of the small number of passengers living nearby.

Finally, the report criticises the fact that there are no connections between the AVE and the airports of Madrid and Barcelona, but there are connections with the airport of Ciudad Real, which has no passengers.

6. Ghost lines that nobody wants

One of the most absurd cases reported by the Court of Auditors is that of the high-speed ghost line between Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, the aim of which was to connect Brussels and Luxembourg in 90 minutes. In 1994, the project was declared a priority by the EU and a deadline of 2020 was set for completion. However, in 2004, none of the countries concerned had made this a national priority. Although the EU has provided €96.5 million to upgrade the conventional line, train travel from Brussels to Luxembourg now takes 3 hours and 17 minutes. That is, almost one hour more than in 1980, when the same distance was covered in 2 hours and 26 minutes. The result is that many potential passengers simply travel by car.

Translated with [but improved by me]

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