MEETING in Toulouse on July 12, French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot and his Spanish counterpart Francisco Álvarez-Cascos agreed that the two countries would share equally the €709·2m public-sector contribution towards building the 45·5 km Perpignan - Figueres cross-border route. Expressions of interest in a concession to build and operate the line have been invited by October 1, and it is hoped to have bids back by March 31 next year.

Scheduled to open in 2005, the new line includes an 8·2 km twin-bore tunnel, of which 7·3 km will be on the 24·6 km French section. As well as high speed passenger services, the new line will carry freight and will be designed to accommodate rolling motorway services. The Spanish government expects the route to carry 4·2million tonnes of freight a year as well as 3·5million passengers in the first 12 months.

Long-term policy on road and rail links across the Pyrenees is expected to be shaped by a Franco-Spanish working group, whose final report is expected within the next few months. The key Irún crossing has been identified as an investment priority, and in mid-2002 the two governments expect the results of further studies into re-opening the Somport rail tunnel as part of a Pau - Canfranc - Zaragoza route with 1435mm gauge and 25 kV electrification throughout. These studies will include the cost implications of widening clearances to B+ rather than the B loading gauge as currently proposed; maximum axleload would be 22·5 tonnes.