Spain unveils plan to boost use of freight rail network

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Spain unveiled Tuesday a 7.5 billion-euro plan aimed at modernising its freight train network and more then doubling the proportion of merchandise that is transported in the country by rail by 2020.

The bulk of the money, 7.1 billion euros (9.1 billion dollars), will go towards improving railway infrastructure, while 300 million euros will be earmarked for a new system to manage the network and the rest set aside for research and development.

Transport Minister Jose Blanco said the goal was to "position Spain as an international logistical platform."

"In this way we will accentuate Spain's position as an entry and exit point in Europe for America, Africa and Asia," he told a news conference to present the plan.

The percentage of merchandise transported in Spain by freight rail, as opposed to truck or boat, has declined steadily since 1997 to 4.1 percent currently compared to between 12 and 22 percent in other European nations.

The government wants to increase the percentage to between 8.0 and 10 percent in 2020.

The plan calls for the launch by the end of the year of projects to allow freight trains of 750 metres (2,475 feet) in length to circulate.

The government also wants to take advantage of the nation's new high-speed rail networks, such as the route between Barcelona and the French border set to be completed in 2012, to transport merchandise.

Just over two-thirds, 68.6 percent, of the cost of the plan will come from private funds with the state responsible for the rest.

© 2010 AFP

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