AS PREDICTED last month, no celebrations were held in Lisboa on April 25 to mark the launch of cross-Tagus rail services. Testing was still under way early last month on the cross-Tagus route, and the double-deck EMUs (below) built for the service to be operated by concessionaire Fertagus were only expected to begin running this month.

It was still not clear in mid-May if the high speed tilting trains (p336) due to be launched with the summer timetable on May 30 between Lisboa and Porto would start from Pragal on the south bank of the Tagus or from Santa Apolónia. Timings are expected to stay at 3h, the same as the fastest locomotive-hauled Alfa services.

This is because of delays to the infrastructure upgrading work, which appear to be very serious. The cost has risen from 848m euros to nearly 1·5bn euros, mainly because work to lift the line speed to 220 km/h needs to include formation renewal, and not simply track relaying as once envisaged. This means that work is now unlikely to be completed before 2010, and the prospect of a 2h 15min timing for the 336 km trip is receding rapidly into the future. Not only that, but Portuguese Railways is concerned that maintenance costs will rocket out of control.

This has prompted revival of plans to build a new line, and the fertile debate about the best route is once again occupying railway managers. Minister of Public Works João Cravinho has invited former CP chief Oliveira Martins to carry out a further study into the 5·5bn euros project, which theoretically could be completed by 2010. A substantial tranche of EU funding would be needed, but commentators have unkindly pointed out that the upgrading project - which also enjoys EU funding - was presented to the EU as a cheaper alternative to the high speed line.