Spanish public works minister cancels China visit

5th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain's public works minister will not attend a world congress on high-speed rail in China later this week due to a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers that has caused a huge backlog of passengers, the government said Sunday.

"Public Works Minister Jose Blanco had to cancel his participation in this trip due to the situation generated by air traffic controllers in Spain," the ministry said in a statement.

He will be replaced at the three-day meeting which gets underway in Beijing on Tuesday by the ministry's secretary general for international relations, Fernando Puig de la Bellacasa, it added.

Controllers had called in sick en masse on Friday, rapidly shutting down the nation's airspace at the start of one of Spain's busiest holiday weekends in a protest over working hours and benefits.

They returned to work after the government declared a state of alert for the first time since the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, putting them under military command with the threat of jail terms for refusing orders.

The strike hit an estimated 300,000 passengers. While airports were once again operating at normal levels, thousands of passengers still faced further delays as airlines tried to clear the backlog caused by the strike.

The Seventh World Congress on High Speed Rail will feature high-level officials from international railway organizations and railway authorities from many countries as well as senior managers from global railway companies and high-speed railway experts.

Initiated and organized by the International Union of Railways since 1992, the conference is said to be the leading global event for showcasing and exchanging views on the developments and achievements of the world's high-speed rail ventures.

It is the first time that a country from outside Europe has hosted the event.

Spain is a world leader in high-speed rail. When a new service between Madrid and the Mediterranean city of Valencia opens on December 18 the country will have more than 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) of rail track that will carry trains at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour.

That will put it ahead of France, with 1,900 kilometres, and further in front of Germany, which has 1,300.

© 2010 AFP

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