EUROPE: RFF President Hubert du Mesnil visited Perpignan on February 17 to celebrate the completion of works to connect the Perpignan - Figueres cross-border railway with the French rail network. Under the €210m package funded by the govern­ment, two new platform tracks have been added at Perpignan station, along with an international freight yard and extended stabling facilities. Part of the Perpignan - Villefranche line has been double-tracked and upgraded to connect with the new line.

February 17 marked the end of the five-year construction period in the 50-year concession to build and operate the cross-border line, awarded to the TP Ferro consortium of ACS/Dragados and Eiffage at the end of 2003. The concessionaire has completed the 45 km route, including an 8·9 km twin-bore tunnel through the Pyrenees, on schedule and within budget. Including financing, the total cost is put at €1 096·7m, of which €523·7m is covered by grants.

All that is missing are the trains. A high speed line between Perpignan and Montpellier is still a decade away, but at least there is a connection. Construction of the standard gauge line from Figueres to Barcelona is three years late, leaving TP Ferro’s rails ending abruptly in open country.

It had been anticipated that high speed trains would now be running bet­ween Perpignan and Barcelona in just 40 min, and international freight trains would link Catalunya with the rest of Europe. But 2012 looks like being the earliest date for completion.

Access charges for the link have been set at €1 300 for a high speed train and €550 for a freight train, but with nothing running TP Ferro is getting no income. The concessionaire has opened negotiations with Spain’s Ministry of Development to look at ways of bridging the gap. Dual-gauging the existing line between Figueres and Girona will allow standard gauge freight trains to reach a terminal in Spain, and there is also talk of some TGVs being routed via the new line as far as Figueres from December.