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High Speed in Emptied Spain: Sanabria.

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ANTONIO MANSO BARRIO. Master in Road, Canal and Port Engineering

The world is full of restless people, people who go from one place to another without stopping, regardless of where and eve why, because we are active people, ambitious to know the world and be able to reach any part of the territory. For this, a good transport network is indispensable, which allows us to reach our destination easily, and the shorter the journey time, the better, because we feel that we are wasting time, we are not taking advantage of it.

Precisely because of the fact of wanting to connect geographically distant places in the shortest possible time, a new mode of rail transport emerged, the High Speed, capable of reaching speeds greater than 300 km/h. one of these projects is to connect Madrid with the north-western of the country, Galicia. Currently, the sections from Madrid to the town of Pedralba de la Pradería, in the province of Zamora, and from Ourense to Santiago de Compostela are in service. 

However, lately there has been a big stir due to the situation of one of the stations in the line, in the town of Otero de Sanabria. Technically, the line has the need to locate an Overtaking and Parking Station (PAET) between Zamora and Ourense, that it must be equipped with platforms and access points prepared for passengers to board and alight in the event of a breakdown or emergency and be able to evacuate such people from one train to another.

Picture 1. Situation of station of Otero de Sanabria under construction. Source:

So what’s the problem with all the commotion? Otero de Sanabria is a town of only 26 inhabitants, located in the region of Sanabria, province of Zamora, 5.830 inhabitants (only 3.38% of the province), with an area equivalent to 1.51% of the area of Zamora. It is therefore included in the part of the country known as Emptied Spain.

The railway is one of the main actors involved in the planning of territory, since it greatly increases the accessibility and connection with other main regions of the geography. A town close to a railway station may be very favoured, with new employment possibilities and greater connectivity; however, the opposite may also occur, and there may be and exodus to those municipalities that are the closest to a train station. 

In the case that concerns us, what can happen in the area?

In the section Zamora – Ourense, there is a single track railway line without electrification, with speeds in which it is practically impossible to exceed 120 km/h. Alvia trains currently operate on this section, which will be discontinued following the entry into service of high-speed trains, and Medium Distance Railway Line 18 (Valladolid – Puebla de Sanabria), which operates a single daily service, with a journey between Zamora and Puebla de Sanabria of one hour and 25 minutes.

On the other hand, the area between these two towns has important nationals highways (A-52, A-66, N-122, N-525, N-630 and N-631), which make it possible to travel by car in just one hour, and in one hour and 45 minutes by bus, with two daily services and one on Sundays and holidays.

Seeing that in the project it is necessary to have a PAET in the section, why is Otero de Sanabria the chosen solution? The most logical thing in these cases is to take advantage of the PAET as a station, so the best option is to place it in the middle of the section. The region of Sanabria is the one that is half way, and although it is the second region of Zamora with less population density (4.78%), its capital town, Puebla de Sanabria, with 1.409 inhabitants in 2018 is among the ten most populated municipalities in the province.

In addition, due to its geographical location, Sanabria has a mixture of traditions with great influences derived from Galicia, León, Zamora and Portugal, which causes that during the summer months attracts a population up to four times., with people coming from all over, not only from Spain, but also foreign tourists who have their holiday destination in Sanabria due to the nature and charm of the area, with the largest glacial lake in Europe.

And then, shouldn’t de PAET be located in Puebla de Sanabria? Puebla is situated on the slope of the Sierra de la Culebra and the terrain has a great orographic difficulty from this town in direction to Ourense. The fact of not locating the PAET in this one is due to the fact that the cost of the project would rise in great quantity due to the need to carry out works of greater magnitude, as it could be an underground one, since the current location of the station of Puebla de Sanabria the orography is, as in the rest of the town, very complicated.

Picture 2. Current railway station of Puebla de Sanabria. Source:

In contrast, the previous town is Otero de Sanabria, with a better topographic situation for the construction of the necessary infrastructure, does not need additional works that increase the budget, and only separate by 6 km. 

All this leads us to a conclusion. The construction of the PAET is necessary within the project in the section Zamora – Ourense, Sanabria is in the middle of the route, about 100 km away from each of the two ends, and taking advantage of its construction as a passenger station, is the most suitable place despite the 26 inhabitants in Otero.

The new station will favour the connection with Galicia and Madrid, so that the accessibility of the province will be improved, giving support to a utilization of the rural environment – currently very ageing population – so that these second homes are used throughout the rest of the year, and not only in the summer months. Many people will be able to move away from living in large population areas such as Madrid or Santiago and move to live in rural areas surrounded by nature, without the bustle to which we are getting used, just two and a half hours from the capital city and many others from Santiago.

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