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Portugal dreams of rail connections


Portugal, whose railway system is one of the most isolated in Western Europe, has dreams of new connections not only to neighboring Spain but also to the UK, France and beyond, and several new possibilities are now in the works.

At present, there's no direct rail connection between Portugal's major cities, Lisbon and Porto and neighboring Spain; a trip from Lisbon to Madrid takes more than eleven hours and requires several train changes.

Portugal is upgrading a number of connections with Spain; a key one, scheduled to be completed by December 2023, is a high-speed link between Madrid and Lisbon. That would provide Portugal with far better rail connections to the rest of the continent.

But that's not the only high-speed dream in the mind of Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who wants a 'southern international corridor" that would link the Spanish high-speed line that connects Madrid and Seville with an east-west extension that would take the line to Faro, the port at the southern tip of Portugal's Algarve region. Portugal says Spain's Andalusia regional government is on board with the idea, but the central government has not responded yet.

Increasing competition among European rail operators could play a role in what eventually happens. Ouigo, the low-cost arm of France's SNCF, is already operating TGV trains between Madrid, Barcelona and France, while Spain's RENFE is looking to compete in France, and to operate a line to London through the Channel Tunnel. Good links to Portugal could be part of a RENFE strategy to hold off competition.

Portugal's own high-speed train line, the Alfa Pendicula, runs at much slower high speeds than the TGV, and has a single line, connecting Faro in the south to Porto and Braga in the north.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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