CP’s president, Mr Carlos Nogueira, told the Portuguese parliament’s transport committee earlier this month that the company has been forced to replace some services on its less-busy lines with buses, and to downgrade the rolling stock used on other routes, with widespread cancellations and delays as a result.
A number of inter-city services have been operating with regional rolling stock while locomotive-hauled inter-city trains have sometimes replaced CP’s Pendolinos on its flagship Lisbon - Porto Alfa Pendular service. Service cuts are now expected to affect mainly peripheral routes like the west, Douro, Alentejo and Algarve lines in order to keep the Lisbon - Porto service afloat.
With an average fleet age of 40 years and an increasing number of trains in storage due to perennial delays at under-staffed maintenance depots, the service cuts were less of a surprise for the industry as contracts both to reinforce CP’s Emef maintenance subsidiary and to replace some of its oldest trains have been delayed.
In the short term, Nogueria says CP plans to rent additional trains from Renfe, Spain, thus adding to the 20-strong DMU fleet already in use in Portugal, but he says these trains will not come overnight as some of them will require authorisation to operate in Portugal which could take some time to obtain.
The Portuguese railway industry is also considering the possibility of solving some of the maintenance backlog by launching international maintenance tenders. However, a permanent solution will require the acquisition of new trains, a long-term demand from CP, which it says the government has been deferring.
Portugal’s planning and infrastructure minister, Mr Pedro Marques, says that the FY2018 budget does provide funds for acquiring dual-gauge, bi-mode trains capable not only of reinforcing the meagre CP fleet but also operating on joint CP and Renfe services. The process, which is deemed “difficult” by the minister, will be launched this year with the objective of introducing the trains when all the works under Infrastructure Portugal’s (IP) Ferrovia 2020 investment plan have been completed. This includes electrification and improvements to the existing Iberian rail connections mainly for freight but also for passenger services connecting both Porto with Vigo (Galicia) and Lisbon with Madrid.