May 18th 2024 | 9:16


Bilbao's southern railway variant overcomes environmental impact

Maria Jose Gonzalez

April 20, 2024 | 11:00 a.m.

The Ministry of Transport and Sustainable Mobility has achieved significant progress for the southern railway variant of Bilbao with obtaining the favorable Environmental Impact Declaration (DIA). This informative study marks a crucial step towards improving rail connections in the Basque Country, especially with regard to access to the port of Bilbao, thus avoiding rail transit through densely populated urban areas.

The project and its environmental and urban implications

The southern railway variant was designed to connect the Serantes tunnel, which is already completed, with the Casetas-Bilbao line and the new Basque railway network. This link is vital not only to improve the efficiency of freight transport to and from the port of Bilbao, but also to facilitate the transition to standard gauge, compatible with European networks.

Within the study, two main alternatives were evaluated, differentiated mainly by the crossing method over the Castaños River in Barakaldo. The selected option includes a viaduct that minimizes the environmental impact in the area and preserves the integrity of nearby mining operations, a critical aspect given the industrial context of the area.

Collaborations and project phases

The development of this project has been possible thanks to a collaboration agreement signed in July 2019 between the Ministry of Transport and Sustainable Mobility, the Ministry of Finance and Public Function, the Basque Government and Adif. This agreement underscores the importance of intergovernmental cooperation on large-scale infrastructure projects, especially those that significantly impact regional and national logistics.

The action is divided into two main phases. The first, to which this study belongs, covers from the Serantes tunnel to the crossing over the Kadagua River. It also includes a provisional branch to the Bilbao-Santurtzi line, near the Olabeaga station, which will allow its use while the development of the variant continues.

Impact and proposed modifications

During the public information and hearing phase, which began in March 2019, various allegations were presented that led to the redesign of the route near Ortuella to avoid adversely affecting existing mining activity. This demonstrated the flexibility and responsibility of the ministry in responding to the environmental and economic concerns of the local community.

This complementary informative study, included in the same file, also received a detailed environmental analysis, ensuring that all aspects of the project are considered before proceeding to the final approval phase and subsequent execution of the works.

Next steps

With the imminent publication of the EIS in the Official State Gazette (BOE), the project is approaching the completion of its planning phase. This is not only a testament to the government's commitment to sustainable and well-planned projects, but also marks the beginning of a new phase that will eventually redefine logistics and transport in northern Spain.

The southern variant will not only facilitate more efficient and less intrusive transport through urban areas, but will also promote Bilbao and the Basque Country as trade and logistics hubs on the European landscape. Expectations are high, and the execution of this project will be closely followed by various entities interested in its successful development and its long-term benefits for the community and the local economy.

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