By Humphrey Carter

THE project to extend the railway to Arta and Alcudia is on track to start in the new year.
As the Bulletin reported earlier in the week, the Alcudia and Arta project is one of the Balearic government's three key public transport initiatives and yesterday, the Minster for Planning and Transport, Gabriel Vicens, revealed that his department wants work on the railway extensions to start next year.

It would appear that now the new government has got its feet under the table, it intends to start rolling out new projects in the new year and it wants to kick off by improving the island's public transport system.

For the past few weeks, much of the transport ministry's attentions have been focused on repairing the flooded metro link, now that appears to be back on track, Vicens said “we're set to give public transport a major boost”.

A team of engineers are currently working round-the-clock on drawing up the Alcudia and Arta extension plans. They have a 300 million euro budget, part of which will be funded by central government as part of the new rail deal struck between Palma and Madrid, to work with.

In total, the ministry has 660 million euros to pump into improving Majorca's railway service and launch ing the proposed bay of Palma tram service.
Laying the Alcudia link is, however, a complicated one - engineers are having to be careful to avoid damaging the Albufera natural park - but Vicens said that his team are progressing at a steady speed.

The public transport improvement and expansion plan is one of the first major advantages of having a Socialist government in power in Madrid and Palma.

The investment package was finalised between the Balearic president Francesc Antich and the Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero when the PM visited Palma last month. Preparatory work on the bay of Palma tram link, which will run from central Palma along the coast to Arenal, is scheduled to start before 2011 and a branch link to the airport is still being discussed.

Next year, sections of the Inca railway will be doubled and a new metro workshop will be built at Son Sardina while the existing workshops at Son Rullan will be enlarged and new railway sheds are going to be built for the Manacor to Arta service.

But, while 2008 is going to be the year of the train, Vicens's department is also devising a whole new network of cycle lanes in a fresh attempt to encourage people to use their vehicles less.