The Vías Verdes (Greenways) Programme was launched in Spain in 1993 with the aim to develop itineraries for non-motorised transport using disused railway lines. Since it started, the Vías Verdes Programme has been the fruit of close co-operation between the various public sector bodies (local and regional level), including the railway companies as well as various citizen groups and associations.
The Vías Verdes Programme started in 1993, when the former Minister for Public Works, Transport and Environment (MOPTMA), together with the two State Railway companies (ADIF, RENFE Operadora and FEVE) commissioned the Spanish Railway Foundation (F.F.E.) the elaboration of a National Inventory of disused railway lines. This research also permitted a preliminary contact with around 1.000 local authorities.
The inventory (with an overall budget amounting to 60,000 Euro) resulted in 98 railway lines, managed by the three public authorities that commissioned the inventory, which represented a total of 5.764 kilometres, including 954 stations. In addition, this inventory collected basic information about 89 former mining and industrial private railway lines which amounted to 1.920
kilometres. As a result, in 1993 there were in Spain around 7,600 kilometres of abandoned railway lines.
The Vías Verdes Programme is the result of a cooperation agreement between MOPTMA, which committed itself to set aside a sum of 6 M Euro/year for Greenways construction, RENFE and FEVE, who contributed with their abandoned lines, as well as FFE which was given the responsibility for promoting, co-ordinating and informing on the programme nation-wide. The political and social support received by the Spanish Vías Verdes Programme, as well as the promotion made by the media, has been very significant. In June 2001, the National Parliament (Senado) unanimously voted a motion, encouraging the Spanish Government to improve the necessary tools and laws in order to convert all the disused railway lines around the country into Vías Verdes.
In 1998, the European Greenways Association was established in Namur with the aim to promote and inform about anything related to the creation of Greenways on a European level, and FFE was elected for the EGWA Presidency. The greatest international reward for the Spanish Vias Verdes Programme took place in October 2000, when the FFE received the United Nations Best Practices Habitat International Award. This award encouraged the FFE to organise more international initiatives with the purpose of spreading the Spanish experience as a practical reference for some other countries, specially Portugal and Latin American nations; in July of 2002 FFE is organising the Fist International Conference about Vías Verdes in Latin America in collaboration with the United Nations and the Spanish Government.
In 2009, sixteen years after its launching, the balance of the Programme in Spain has been very positive. More than 60 Millions Euro have been invested in converting some 1.700 kilometres of disused railway line into 70 Vías Verdes, and there are in addition 350 new kilometres whose technical project is already finished.
From 1995 onwards, the new Ministry for the Environment (MIMAM) has financed the Programme together with several regional and local authorities. In addition to this investment, is the cost of rehabilitating buildings that will be used for the installation of equipment and complementary services (in many cases, this kind of investment is higher than the cost of constructing the itinerary of the Via Verde).
Nowdays there are 59 rail old station rehbilitated as restaurants, hoteles, museums, information points, or even rent-a-bike services.
The procedure is as follows. The local and/or regional authorities concerned draw up the “Vía Verde Viability Plan”, with the co-operation (if requested) of the FFE: the ownership status of the land is analysed and a design for the rehabilitation of the railway line into a future Greenway is defined in agreement with local authorities and associations. At this stage, a commitment for the management and maintenance of the Greenway is laid down, either via the local councils, or their communities, provincial or regional governments, or through consortia, companies or foundations set up for this specific purpose.
Once the viability study has been completed, the measures agreed are incorporated into the construction plan, whose undertaking may be financed in one of three different ways, namely: entirely from Environment Ministry budgets, co-financed through Environment Ministry and other regional or local authorities (a formula which is gaining ground), or via a specific finance project adapted to the regional or local conditions.
Economic impacts: leisure and tourism
The Greenways constitute a novel and attractive resource for active tourism in Spain. Ecological and responsible tourism has become the most appropriate complement and alternative for the traditional beach and sun offer. In such a rugged geographical landscape as Spain's, the Vías Verdes acquire additional qualities, since more than 500 tunnels and 1100 viaducts and bridges assure continuity and universal accessibility.
Some Greenways already have had a favourable effect on the redistribution of mass tourism: the Carrilet Vía Verde which cross a volcanic region in the foothills of the Pyrenees, arriving to the ancient city of Girona, and running into the Costa Brava. Already it received nearly 1 million visitors/year, half of whom come from other regions, particularly the Barcelona metropolitan area. The success of this route has been such, that it has encouraged local business people, hotels and restaurants owners' to request authorisation to place advertisements for their establishments along the path.
Furthermore, the positive effect of the Greenways on the areas they pass through is not limited to the tourist sector, but produce other very different dynamic effects on the local population and economy right from the beginning of its construction. These effects are more significant if depressed rural areas are considered, as in the case of the Sierra Vía Verde (36 km already constructed). Here, thanks to the School- Workshop training and employment programmes, groups of 60 unemployed young people from local areas have been employed for two years to rehabilitate four former stations along the Greenways and to install tourist facilities on them. Therefore, the structural renovation of these buildings alone has meant considerable public investment, around 280,000 euros. In June 2001 two of these stations (Olvera and Puerto Serrano) have been inaugurated as rural hotel with restaurant; the inside installations have been paid with private investment. Others station as Coripe or Zaframagon are today a new hotel and a bird watching museum. So far, the Sierra Vía Verde has permit to create 29 new jobs.
Promotion and dissemination
The Spanish Vías Verdes Programme is intended to stimulate the use of non-motorised means of transport, but that changes in mentality will only be achieved if proper infrastructure schemes are accompanied by training and information measures. One example of promotional activities originated in Spain which could spread to other European countries is the organisation of the National Vías Verdes Day. From 1999 onward, each second Sunday on May, the different consortia of Vías Verdes celebrate popular and festive activities, in collaboration with the citizen associations and co-ordinated by the FFE. Especially children, elderly and disabled people are encouraged to walk and cycle along the Vías Verdes, as well as politicians (in 2001, a group of 48 deputies and senators cycled the Aceite Vía Verde in Andalusia), professional cyclists, etc. This event is certainly very successful and is widely publicised in the media. (2.000 participants each year confirm the succesfull or these activity).
One of the characteristics which defines the Spanish Vías Verdes, and which gives them a special quality, is the existence of a Spanish Greenways Programme National Programme which provide homogenous signs of identity in each and every Vía Verde, which uses an identifying logo and a common denomination: “Vía Verde”. Evenly the singposting was specifically and uniformly designed for being used on the different Vías Verdes. Old wooden railway sleepers have been used as signpost supports and as kilometre markers, and they are also used as obstacles to prevent motorised traffic to enter the green way, and particularly at road junctions.
This homogenous image throughout the territory is one of the programme's greatest triumphs and contributes without any doubt to its promotion. A vital aspect, in this respect, has been the publication of a Vías Verdes Guide (first volume) in 1997 by the Spanish Railways Foundation, in which more than 1,000 kilometres of routes are described. A second volume was published in 1999, including 800 kilometres of new Greenways. The third one was published in 2008. In 2000 the FFE launched a web site (www.viasverdes.com). This web site has in 2008 8,5 million of visits.
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