• Photo: Medway Iberia

28.02.2024 By: Jürg Streuli / Christian Doepgen

Artikel Nummer: 48458

The end of a neverending story?

New deadline in mid-2024 for the opening of the important Linha da Beira Alta railfreight route. Developing railfreight options is a complicated affair in the Iberian Peninsula, not only on account of its different gauges. The rail logistician Medway Iberia, for example, which was re-established by MSC in 2015-2016, has called for compensation on account of the fact that modernising the Linha da Beira Alta line between Portugal and Spain will take considerably longer than planned.

Construction delays meant it remained unclear for a long time when the Portugal’s Linha da Beira Alta railway line would be reopened. The route carries the bulk of Iberian railfreight traffic running between Portugal and Spain.

The initial date on which the operator planned to restart services on the route was first postponed from January to July, and then to November 2023, but in the end even that deadline wasn’t met.

Carlos Fernandes, the vice-president of the Portuguese state-owned rail (and roads) infrastructure company Infraestruturas de Portugal (IP), cited “continued constraints” due to a lack of capacities in the construction markets (subcontractors, materials, equipment, labour), which in turn was due to “disrupted supply chains on account of the ongoing global situation.”

On top of these bureaucratic obstacles, 30 km of contact wires were also stolen. Now the Linha da Beira Alta is scheduled to re-commence operations by mid-2024 – meaning the total delay comes to more than a year.

A difficult route

On 19 April 2022 the trans-mountain railway line was cut between Pampilhosa and Guarda, to undertake major modernisation measures. The work extended dual-track crossing sections from 400 to 750 m. 16 km of tracks were completely re-laid. The overall cost of refurbishing 155 km of line are estimated to come to EUR 600 million. The original plan foresaw the reopening of the line in January 2023.

It was only the rehabilitation and reopening in 2021 of the 46 km Covilhã–Guarda section of the Linha da Beira Baixa, which created an alternative line from Entroncamento to Guarda, that made the long line closure manageable in the first place.

Now, thanks to two single-track and newly-electrified lines running through two different valleys, continuous double tracks have been created from Lisbon to Guarda. Thanks to a new connecting loop at Guarda, freight trains from the Linha da Beira Baixa can continue to Vilar Formoso, the border station with Spain, without having to make a u-turn.

Some railfreight operators aren’t happy about the delays. Medway Iberia, a subsidiary of MSC, demanded compensation for the longer journey of trains on the eastern line from northern Portugal.

The Portuguese ministry for the economy offered EUR 15 million in compensation. It would be based on EUR 2.11 / km for electric locomotives and EUR 2.64 / km compensation paid out for diesel locomotives. The negotiations haven’t been completed.


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