FORMAL approval for construction of two high speed lines in Portugal was announced on December 13. Prime Minister José Sócrates said they would help to bind the country closer into the European Union and the Iberian peninsula.

Detailed design is already well advanced, and civil works are expected to get underway in 2010-12. Following an agreement with the Spanish government, reached during negotiations on November 23, the 207 km route from Lisboa to Elvas/Badajoz on the Spanish border is to be completed by 2013. The 313 km north-south line linking Lisboa and Porto via Leiria, Coimbra and Aveiro will open two years later.

Total cost of the package is put at €8·2bn. Of this, 38% will be funded commercially from future revenue streams, 22% from the European Union and the remaining 40% from the Portuguese government. The programme is expected to create around 100000 new jobs.

Lisboa - Porto journey times will be cut from the present 3h to 1h 15min, and Lisboa - Madrid to 2h 45min. According to studies by the Catholic University of Portugal, the high speed lines are expected to generate economic benefits totalling €7bn between 2005 and 2023.

The north-south line will also serve the future Lisboa airport at Ota, 40 km north of the capital, offering an 8min journey time from Oriente station.

The government has confirmed that the new lines will be built to 1435mm gauge, and Transport Minister M