Thursday 27 June 2013

About the courage of Spanish politicians (and the timidity of Welsh ones)

I previously wrote nice things about the tram network in Valencia and I had the opportunity to visit the southern part of the region a couple of weeks ago. Alicante is a sea side town with a lovely old city centre and sprawling modern outskirts. If Spain is in a recession, the more touristic cities along the coast  do not show it, which does not mean that the people there don't hurt.

However, coming from Wales, it was interesting to me how the region solved its public transport problem. The coast line has long been connected via an old diesel train all the way to Valencia. The track was narrow gauge and single file. In a sense this was all that is needed and the region decided in 2003 to update the network. What they did was smart and on the cheaper side of the usually grandiose transport investments in Spain that contributed so much to ruining the Spanish regions' finances.

In effect, they kept the single file tracks, electrified the network and replaced the rolling stock with trams. No guessing where those trams come from: only the finest from Bombardier (Canada). The result is a reliable regional transport network that connects Alicante with Benidorm, and two underground city stops in Alicante itself which allow future lines to be built.

A product of political courage - Alicante tram

Now for the politics of it. The investment in public transport in Spain was made mainly by the regions and it crippled many of them. Some even had to mothball their rolling stock or lease it to other countries. Yet, some regions have maintained their new transport networks and the improvements will give them an additional advantage once Spain's economy recovers. In a sense, it took guts to make those investment decisions, and you may say that it ruined a few political careers of regional politicians along the way.

Yet, then again, look at the dithering of the Welsh politicians when it comes to the modernisation of the valley lines. There is nothing they could not do what Spanish regional politicians did. But Carwin Jones and his bumbling cabinet will always lack the guts to spend political capital on large transport infrastructure projects. Instead, they look to London whilst accusing London at the same time for meddling in Welsh affairs.

I guess a country gets the politicians it deserves. And sometimes it takes a politician to put his political career on the line for a project he believes in. We know political courage is not Carwin Jones' strength. But if not for improving the lives of the people in Wales, what was his political life for?

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