“Now they want to put up some fences, because they say the train makes a lot of noise.”
Spain is about to completely delimit the coastal area safe from urbanization
“And won’t the sea be seen or what?” If the grace of the Rambla is to see the sea. We already know that we have the train, what they would have to do is bury it, but not put up fences. All my life it has been like this.
Montserrat and María Teresa are two retired friends who talk sitting on a wooden bench on the Rambla de Badalona. His concern is that of all the neighbors. In the fourth city of Catalonia there is an almost unanimous rejection of the acoustic screens between three and six meters high that Adif wants to install to reduce the noise of the trains that pass between the promenade and the beach. The reason: they will prevent you from seeing the sea.
The refusal of these walls resonates in the streets, but also in the City Council headed by Xavier García Albiol (PP). Government and opposition reject the proposal of the public company that manages the railway infrastructures due to the visual impact of the panels. In addition, the affected area – about 100 meters out of the 1,000 that the promenade occupies – is classified as a Cultural Asset of Local Interest (BCIL). This Sunday the Federation of Neighborhood Associations of Badalona (FAVB) held a protest rally.
From five in the morning until twelve at night, convoys pass along the Badalona coast, with frequencies of five minutes at peak times. The passing of the trains marks even the rhythm of the conversations. When a train passes he is silent and speaks again when he is no longer seen. “As children my children used to play to say goodbye to the train,” recalls Montserrat. That’s how it has always been and that’s how they want it to be.
All the alarms went off on August 14, following a publication in the Official State Gazette (BOE). There it is announced that the Ministry of Transport intends to expropriate land from different Catalan municipalities to install acoustic protections. There are 17 affected municipalities, including Tarragona, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat or El Vendrell, as well as Badalona.
Several of the affected municipalities have presented their opposition to the proposal. “An expropriation is the last measure against land owned by the City Council. Anyone who knows Badalona knows it, it is an aberration”, reproaches Daniel Gracia, Deputy Mayor for Territory and Sustainability of the Badalona City Council.
Representatives of the public company are astonished with the agitation of the municipalities. “I am very surprised that some municipalities say that they have found out from the BOE, because it is not like that,” explains an Adif spokeswoman to elDiario.es. Since 2016, the affected towns and cities have known that corrective measures must be applied to comply with Spanish law and European regulations on environmental noise.
The data account for the problem. According to the Basic Information System on Noise Pollution (SICA), which prepares noise maps of the State’s highways, airports, and railways, the levels allowed in sensitive spaces are exceeded in Badalona. The Minguella school and the Dane residence exceed by five or ten decibels of noise the 60 allowed during the morning and 50 at night. And on the Rambla the noise limit allowed in public spaces is also exceeded.
Concrete or transparent wall?
Although there is consensus on the objective of reducing noise, the methods generate discrepancies. While Adif maintains that the base would be made of concrete or iron and the upper part transparent or translucent, the Badalona City Council assures that the proposal made by the railway company consists of opaque walls of between three and six meters.
The company does not clarify the exact measurements of each of the parts of these screens. “They will be variable and in principle they will be adaptable to the municipality,” they maintain. “We want there to be consensus, but the law is the law, we have to comply with it,” they say. Tenders for the works are already scheduled, but have not yet been published or awarded to any company, says Adif.
The City Council has commissioned the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) to study alternatives to Adif’s proposal. Jordi Romeu, researcher at the UPC Mechanical Engineering department, explains that he has proposed to the council the installation of low screens, less than one meter high, very close to the train tracks, unlike the Adif screens, which are much higher and are further from the rails. “You can achieve a very similar result,” defends Romeu. These 70-centimeter-high walls are used in the Nordic countries and in Russia, and pilot tests are underway in France, Germany, Switzerland and Japan.
Another of the possibilities that Romeu points out would be to install sound reducers on the sides of the road, but Adif defends his proposal. “Taking into account the terms and costs of the acoustic screens, they are the most efficient solution”, they assure. On the other hand, the UPC researchers maintain that their proposal is less expensive, because fewer materials are used and because it is not necessary to expropriate land from city councils, in addition to being applicable to the entire coastline.
Last week García Albiol met with the president of Adif, María Luisa Domínguez. From the meeting came the commitment to agree on a solution that allows to reduce the noise of the train but at the same time protect the iconic walk of Badalona. They speak of “working immediately” on the alternatives proposed by the UPC.
Meanwhile, the noise of the train does not scare the customers away from the bars and restaurants on the Rambla. What does cause real fear for restaurateurs are the Adif acoustic screens. “If they put these fences on us, it will affect our trade, because from seeing the sea to seeing a wall is very different,” says Rosa Roca, owner of the Fillol horchatería. “The screens would remove the noise, but we would not see the sea, with how beautiful it is,” ditch Nieves Peinado, who walks with her husband along the Rambla. They both want their favorite walk to be accompanied by the sea breeze and not by an impassable wall.