Lisbon Journal: New high-speed rail link to Porto proposed.

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by Ron Bernthal 

In 2020 the government of Portugal has confirmed its intention to press ahead with rail investments of more than $12 billion,  as part of a larger  national stimulus program.  The highlight of the package, however,  is the revival of a proposal for a true high speed rail link between Lisbon and Porto, which has been on going subject for more than two decades.  

It has been more than 20 years in the making but Portugal’s plan for a true high-speed train route connecting its two major cities of Lisbon and Porto is finally back on track, maybe.   Infrastructure minister Pedro Santos Nunes made the announcement as part of the government’s National Investment Program 2030, which has allocated $52 billion to modernize the country’s rail infrastructure.

Although the much-anticipated high-speed train link will cost about $5.4 billion and enable trains to travel at 180 mph, thus more than halving the current travel time between the cities to an hour and 15 minutes, there already is a rather fast rail connection between Lisbon and Porto called the Alfa Pendular. Operated by Portuguese Railways, it is the most convenient way to travel between the two cities.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Portos-Historic-Centre-photo-Porto-Convention-and-Visitors-Bureau-1024x512.jpgPorto’s historic city center is just a few hours away from Lisbon using the fast Alfa Pendular express train (photo Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau)

 

The Alfa Pendular train was completely renovated  March 2017,  and now offers travelers even more comfort.  The current rail service on the line travels the 206 miles in less than three hours, and offers first and second-class accommodations, with five daily departures.  The Alfa provides comfortable, spacious seats with generous legroom and individual power sockets, a wide range of audio and video channels, and is equipped with nice bathrooms, a dining car, and a small bar. 

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Interior of Alfa Pendular   (photo Liam Henderson, TransportingCities)

Because of the financial hit that all countries took from the Covid-19 pandemic it is hard to say just how much money will now be available for the expensive 10-year rail  investment plan recently announced.   Will the creation of more  metro and local train lines across the country, and rail station renovations, as well as new international routes connecting Portugal to Spain, now be possible following the economic issues caused by Covid?  

 

Lisbon’s Oriente Station was designed by the noted Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The Alfa Pendular has several departures a day from this station for Porto.

Some politicians in Portugal believe it will be more difficult to start on the new high-speed Lisbon-Porto rail project now because the pandemic is still ongoing, and leisure and business travel in still unpredictable. Others say that the failure of building a promised new international airport at Ota, 30 miles from Lisbon, which never got off the ground, should come before any new high speed track construction takes place.

However, infrastructure minister Santos is feeling very positive about the current proposal. “We’re not inventing anything new,” said Santos. “Twenty years ago my  predecessor, João Cravino, had already arrived at this conclusion. But unfortunately, we wasted a lot of time.” Santos believes that the funds will be available to complete the railway’s master plan, including the new high speed Lisbon-Porto link.

A modern Metro train links the city’s Aeroroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro with Porto’s city center. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Other government officials, especially tourism authorities and hospitality leaders, firmly believe that the money invested in the country’s future rail service infrastructure (including a faster express train service between Lisbon and Porto, will help Portugal’s tourism industry to maintain record levels of business and leisure visitor arrivals, especially when international travel restrictions are lifted and the country’s two major cities are again filling up their hotels, restaurants, beaches, wineries and cultural attractions with unmasked visitors.

Pena Palace is one of several historic palaces in Sintra, Portugal, a short drive from Lisbon (photo Joanna Tricorache)

Arouca Journal: Soaring New Footbridge Opens Over Portuguese River

New 516 Arouca suspension bridge in northern Portugal (photo © Arouca Ponte Suspensa)

By Ron Bernthal

Authorities in Portugal will shortly open an adrenaline raising suspension bridge in Arouca, just outside Porto, the country’s second largest city. The bridge, called 516 Arouca, is expected to open in late October, 2020, and will become the latest “must see” attraction for visitors to the northern region of Portugal. 

View of walkway on the 516 Arouca suspension bridge in northern Portugal (photo © Arouca Ponte Suspensa)

Suspended 175 meters (574 feet) above Rio Paiva, and stretching for 516 meters (1,700 feet) across the valley (thus the name “516”), the bridge is designed with a transparent base which mimics the feeling of walking through the air with the river directly below.

Arouca suspension bridge in northern Portugal (photo © Arouca Ponte Suspensa)

The suspension bridge is supported by two V-shaped concrete towers with a unique design, combining elements of a pure Tibet-style footbridge with no towers,  and a sagging deck with a more conventional tower supported span with a flat deck. The bridge connects the escarpment of the Aguieiras Waterfall and the area of the Paiva Gorge, two of the 41 geosites of the Arouca Geopark. 

View from below of new 516 Arouca suspension bridge in northern Portugal (photo © Arouca Ponte Suspensa)

Suspended 175 metres above Rio Paiva and stretching for 516 metres, the bridge is designed with a transparent base which mimics the feeling of walking through the air with the River Paiva right beneath. The giant suspension bridge is supported by two V-shaped concrete towers with a unique design combining elements of a pure Tibet-style footbridge with no towers and a sagging deck with a more conventional tower supported span with a flat deck.

The village of Cabreiros in Arouca Geopark (photo aroucageopark.pt)

The bridge connects the escarpment of the Aguieiras Waterfall and the area of the Paiva Gorge, two of the 41 geosites of the Arouca Geopark. The park is one hour by car from Porto, about two hours from Lisbon.

The village of Paradinha in Arouca Geopark is one of several small villages in this region just one hour from Porto (photo aroucageopark.pt)

The entire municipality of Arouca, all 126 square-miles, is classified as a UNESCO Global Geopark. This huge, green region has 41 interesting geological sites (geosites), and more than half of them are classified as such by the Natura 2000 network.

The restaurant at “Casa no Campo” (house in the countryside) in Arouca region offers a stunning view over the Moldes valley. (photo aroucageopark.pt)

Visitors to the Arouca Geopark can stay in Porto, established in the 12th-century, and one of Portugal’s most leisure and business destinations, or in the Arouca region itself, where small hotels and restaurants in rural villages offer a friendly and quiet hospitality experience.

Aerial view of historic district ot Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city and just one hour from Arouca Geopark in northern region of the country. (photo Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Arouca Geopark    

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