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The first draft of the AVE (Alta Velocidad Española – Spanish High Speed Railroad) to Galicia happened over 10 years ago. The idea started to develop in the year 2002, and its grand opening was foreseen in the year 2012. But in the way of the developing the project several issues popped up and delayed it. In fact, to this day, construction it’s not finished.

Galicia’ topography is quite complicated, so much so that is forcing most f the railroad to go underground or through a viaduct. For example, the line Ourense – Vigo, that is 4 kilometers long, has 20 viaducts and 76% of it is underground. One of the tunnels is has a length of 18 kilometers, the longest one in the whole state of Galicia.

The first path was presented and approved by the Ministry of Infrastructures in 2003. The first issue of great proportion that came up had to do with a mine of quartz and silica located in Serrabal, in the province of A Coruña. The picture below is a Google Maps image of the area as of today.  (IMAGEN2)


We can see the mine just by the side of the railroad, seen as a white stripe. The owner of the mine, Juan Miguel Villar Mir, also president of OHL, went to the Supreme Court to revoke a sentence made y the Audencia Nacional in September, 2010; but it was dismissed in 2014. The judges denied the lawsuit because the Ministry’s plan was correct and was supported by technical reports.  Besides, the Supreme Court alleges that they can’t decide if the design of a new path for the railroad is correct or not, given the fact that they can’t intervene in the selection of it. The company demanded 895 million Euros in compensation initially, but eventually the number came down to 270 million, against the 5 million the Ministry was offering.

The company  also asked the Xunta de Galicia to continue the exploitation of the mine underground, and it presented them with a “innovative and never seen before” project to do so, but after a environmental impact report was elaborated, the idea was rejected. Finally, after bitter confrontations and ever boycotting the construction, the expropriation was made. The railroad followed the initial path, although it had to be protected from blasting with a false tunnel.

Just 3 months ago, and investigation was carried in the mine due to a lawsuit that claimed environmental irregularities, which are still being carried out.

Not far from this area (30 kilometers), something that was unexpected happened. While a simple phase of surveys was carried out in October 2006, near the village of Bendoiro, in the county of Lalín; some Celtic ruins that dated all the way to the Iron Age were found. An archeologist team came out to the site and determined that what they had found were in fact tombs that seemed to be made for cremating the bodies, something never seen before in Northwestern Spain. To avoid damaging the remains, instead of carrying out a deforestation, a tunnel was built, as shown in the picture below. (IMAGEN1)


  Meanwhile, in the province of Ourense the environmental report that was approved talked about 190.000 square meters between the villages of Vilariño and Cercedelo, in the middle of the Macizo Central Ourensano, but when the bulldozers finished, the amount of land affected was 450.000 square meters, 260.000 more that previously planned. This excess affected about two thousand ancient chestnut trees near the village of Cercedelo, in the county of Laza, that were not included in the environmental impact report, and also another three thousand trees besides the river Támega: chestnut trees, walnut trees, poplars, birches and another species of high environmental value, vital for the river.

The Galician Society of Historic Conservation filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Environment, the Subdelegación del Gobierno and the Consellería de Medio Ambiente in Ourense, claiming that the impact was not in the environmental report.

This construction in this area is not yet finished. In the part that goes through Cercedelo the environmental impact was bigger than the report had stated, but the damage was minimized.

The Camino de Santiago, which belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage has been affected by the construction. And something else: the tunnels across the Macizo Central Ourensano were going to be made by a TBM, but actually they are being made by drills (a cheaper method), and of course it is not being taken into account the time or the environmental impact it’s causing in the area.

Victoria Sesto Muñoz

Student at ETSI Caminos, Canales y Puertos (UPM)

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