The regional government of Extremadura, in western Spain, has used the term “useless” to describe railway authorities after 163 passengers were stranded in the middle of a field on New Year’s Day.
The train had departed from Badajoz at 5.18pm on Tuesday with Madrid as its final destination. But a malfunction in Mérida forced the passengers to get off and board a second train.
We in Extremadura have often been told that we are stuck at the bottom in this country, yet I never wanted to believe it. But yesterday I believed
Javier Granado, passenger
There were two trains to choose from at the Mérida station, and apparently railway authorities decided to put the passengers on the older one, which also broke down soon later – twice. As a result, travelers finally arrived in Madrid at 3.40am on January 2, feeling cold, tired and angry.
Renfe, the train operator, has issued an apology and announced an internal investigation. But authorities in Extremadura, a region that has long complained about poor railway infrastructure compared with the rest of the country, are not appeased.
“I demand answers, explanations and specific action from the government,” said regional premier Guillermo Fernández Vara of the Socialist Party (PSOE) in a tweet.
“The problem is that somebody insisted on continuing to Madrid with that old train,” added José González, the regional chief of transportation. “If Renfe lacks the ability to manage transportation in the region, we kindly ask them to stop doing it. I don’t want to go too far, but it they are useless...”
After passengers were taken off the first train in Mérida and transferred to the second one, they arrived at the station of Navalmoral de la Mata at 9.30pm, where this second train remained motionless for nearly an hour. A technician was called in to fix a glitch, and the train got moving again only to break down once more just a few minutes later in the middle of the countryside.
Passengers were left in the dark and cold until 1.15am on Wednesday, when another train showed up to tow them back to Navalmoral. From there, passengers were offered three buses to Madrid or a spot on a third train. Passengers arrived at Atocha station in Madrid at around 3.40am. “There were no taxis, it was 2ºC, and nobody showed the least concern for us,” according to one passenger’s Twitter post.
“We in Extremadura have often been told that we are stuck at the bottom in this country, yet I never wanted to believe it. But yesterday I believed,” says Javier Granado, 33.
The journalist Borja Negrete, who was on board, posted a video on social media showing people in the dark. “2019 begins like 2018 for the people of Extremadura, as the most forgotten region of Spain,” he wrote.
This is not the first such incident involving trains in Extremadura, home to some of the poorest municipalities in Spain. On October 13, one of the trains heading for Madrid actually ran out of fuel.
In a country crisscrossed by the high-speed AVE train, Extremadura is the exception. The trip from Badajoz to Madrid takes six hours and 37 minutes if it is on time, while the same journey is just four hours by car. The Talgo train, which is back on track after eight years, is slightly faster, covering the distance in five hours and eight minutes.
Moreover, there’s only one single-track line serving two directions, so at some stage one train has to stop on the siding to let the other train go by.
English version by Susana Urra.