By 2003 you will be able to catch the train from Palma to Manacor under plans announced by the Balearic government yesterday. True to their philosophy of more investment in public transport rather than roads the local government signed an agreement yesterday which will mean that 30 kilometres of track will be laid linking up Inca, Sa Pobla and Palma with Manacor. But the project doesn't come cheap, it is costing in excess of 33 million euros, according to the Balearic Ministry of Public Works. The public transport blueprint which has been drawn up by the government also states that the train times will be in harmony with the bus times, allowing travellers, in theory to step off the train, on to a bus. This is all part of the unified bus scheme which the local government has drawn-up in an effort to bring public transport services together. The new train link will now pass to the north of the village of Petra. Under a previous plan which was drawn up the service would have gone through the heart of the village famous as the birthplace of the pioneering monk Fray Junipero Serra. But the council protested claiming that it would break the town in two and cause major logistical problems. It was then back to the drawing board and a new route drawn up which has met with the approval of the council. This option is more expensive but it also means that there is now no opposition. The Petra council has agreed to help the Ministry of Public Works with the take-over of private land which will be needed to lay the track. Yesterday's announcement is a major breakthrough for the Balearic government who have placed their faith in improving the rail network to ease congestion on the roads. But naturally the plan has its critics. The train network was extended to Sa Pobla last year but because of a lack of demand from the public the frequency of the service had to be reduced. At the same time the main Alcudia motorway continued to be over congested, especially at the main Inca round-about. While the government transport plan has been welcomed by environmentalists motorists say that more money should be invested in roads. When the Antich administration came to power three years ago they decided to freeze most of the major transport programmes which had been drawn-up by the previous administration. Money for new roads, allegedly forthcoming from the central administration in Madrid, was also snubbed. The next step in the local government's love affair with the railway is to extend the service from Sa Pobla to Alcudia. Plans are already underway and officials at the Ministry for Public Works have been studying possible places where the track can be laid. However, the Balearic government has so far been unable to persuade motorists to leave their vehicles at home. Despite the massive spending on public transport the island's car fleet continues to grow and there is now one car per every 1.5 inhabitants. Also, the railway at the moment can only transport a limited amount of freight which means that most heavy goods are transported around the island by road. Other island authorities have also shown interest in the railways. The Palma city council at one stage was planning to build a rail link between the airport and the city centre. However, this plan appears to have been shelved because of its high cost. But it is the local government which is the champion of the railways. At one stage they were even considering linking the airport with most of Calvia with a rail link. This proposal was slammed by the opposition as simply impossible. It would involve laying scores of miles of track on private land which would have to be bought. The opposition claims that the local government must face reality and build more roads. The idea of a bigger rail network, they say, is an unworkable solution and may please environmentalists but will do little to ease congestion.


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