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Debating the Rail Link the Costa del Sol needs

Debating the Rail Link the Costa del Sol needs

Mar 24, 2015
There is still much debate over the rail link the Costa del Sol actually needs. Although Susana Díaz , the president of the Junta de Andalucía, and the minister of Public Works, Ana Pastor, have recently met in Madrid to push ahead with the project to connect Marbella and Estepona by rail, how this new rail link is to be constructed and what other infrastructure is actually needed to deliver 21st century public transport options to the Costa del Sol's residents and tourists is still very much up for discussion.

Too many opposing Opinions spoil the Railway Broth

While the Junta's president favours the building of a brand new rail link between the two towns and has already applied to the EU's Juncker Plan for funding, the minister of Public Works wants to simply extend the existing suburban railway line. She will present plans to that effect no later than April.

All the experts who have so far worked on the project agree at least that the rail link needs to satisfy three basic objectives if it is to be useful and efficient and warrant the huge expense:

Malaga Airport must operate as the main point of reference
the train journey must not take significantly longer than a drive by car
the train must stop in town centres

Transport Hub Malaga Airport

Practically everyone agrees that Malaga Airport is crucial to the development of a fast, reliable and efficient rail network serving the Costa del Sol. Linking a new railway line to the airport would transform the airport into the central transport hub, both for international travel and communications as well as for the whole Andalusia region. The train stations at the airport would become an essential part of the new railway service, particularly during peak travelling times such as July and August.

The inclusion of the airport would not only provide a fast link between the airport and resorts along the Costa del Sol but would also link the new train service to the high speed trains that operate between major cities in Andalusia. Connecting to the existing high speed network is essential, if daily fast train services between Madrid and Marbella are to be created at some point in the future.

Marbella to Estepona Journey Time

If the new rail link is to help reduce road traffic during peak seasons, then the journey time must be similar to that of a car journey, otherwise local residents and tourists alike will continue using their private vehicles or rental cars. Although everyone agrees on this point, the experts involved in the project cannot agree how this is to be achieved and what the optimum time for such a journey should be.

Angel Asenjo, a town planner, believes that the train will only become attractive to travellers if the duration of the journey doesn't exceed 40 minutes. Mr Asenjo is in favour of a new railway line to be built between Malaga Airport and Marbella.

"There is no sense in extending the line from Fuengirola unless it is widened. Buildings would have to be compulsorily purchased and if there is no way of doing that then a new line is needed,” the town planner explained.

Railway company experts have highlighted the fact that the current travelling time from central Malaga to Fuengirola amounts to exactly 46 minutes, hardly a huge difference to put off motorists. The railway buffs believe that it is possible for trains to reach Marbella in the 35 to 40 minute time frame; provided a series of technical issues can be resolved, the current suburban line (Cercanias) could be extended to speed up travelling times.

Experts may differ on some points, but they all agree that an extension or new railway line must have a double track. Unfortunately, it would only be possible to widen about two-thirds of the tracks for the suburban C-1 line, as there is not enough space for the rest to install a double track system.

As the recent railway report of the European Commission has also highlighted, Iberian countries must do more to modernise their railway links, as not enough of them have international gauges to permit trains to connect to the High Speed Cordoba-Malaga line for example or to rail networks across the Portuguese border. An efficient and practical Madrid to Marbella high speed rail link would depend on gauge sizes being the same.

Cost and Convenience of Travel

Pricing is another bone of contention among those involved in the project. To remain competitive compared to private vehicles and rental cars, the train ticket cannot be too expensive. Using the current ticket prices for the Cercanias line as a guide, experts believe the cost of a one-way ticket from Malaga to Marbella would cost ca. 5.00 euros. Based on this, the experts estimated that a month's worth of unlimited travel between Malaga and Marbella would cost ca. 120.00 euros, compared to the current monthly season ticket of unlimited travel, which costs 100.15 euros.

 "The coastal train, in order to be efficient, profitable and viable, has to pass through all the urban districts; there is no sense in a route through places that are not densely populated," says town planner Ángel Asenjo. He believes there should be a central station in the La Ermita neighbourhood of Marbella and a stop in San Pedro Alcántara.

Every town hall will be clamouring for a train stop in their town centre - trains bring much needed tourism and that means money into local economies. Meanwhile, Marbella residents are eagerly following the debate.
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