The Government denies that there is overcrowding in urban trains in Greater Lisbon and guarantees that public health rules have been complied with taking into account the Covid-19 pandemic. The Minister of Infrastructure and Housing, Pedro Nuno Santos, guarantees that the occupancy rates of trains on urban lines are below those recorded in the pre-Covid period, but adds that the reinforcement of trains on the Sintra line is being studied.
“In general, there is still no lack of trains on urban lines. Demand is still much lower than in the period before the pandemic and the capacity for two-thirds is fulfilled in the overwhelming majority of trains, even at rush hour ”, said the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing, in response to a required interpellation by Bloco de Esquerda (BE) on “the response to Covid-19 in Greater Lisbon in transport and housing”.
To show that the occupancy rates of the trains have decreased, Pedro Nuno Santos gave the example of the Sintra and Azambuja line (two of which have the highest passenger circulation). According to the minister, the capacity of these lines is now around 30%, while the average capacity, in peak hours before the pandemic and before the containment measures are announced, is above 80%.
The government official stressed, however, that he understands “well the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity that people experience when, in the current context, they have to use urban rail transport”, because “if the Portuguese who travel on urban trains to do their lives were already struggling with problems before the exceptional moment that we live [due to Covid-19] and the pandemic context only exacerbated them ”.
Pedro Nuno Santos does not reject the possibility of using buses to complement the train, but says that he “does not have many expectations” regarding this solution. This is because, in the case of the Sintra line, “a full-load train transports two thousand people and connects all stations in 40 minutes” and a full bus “takes only 50 people and takes double or triple to do the same route ”.
"This means that if we wanted to add the equivalent of a train to our offer, we would have to inject 40 buses at peak times in the IC19," he explained.
The minister said that a working group was created between the Ministry of Infrastructure and the CP to study a way of placing “at least one more train per hour on the Sintra line”. “In the long run, in addition to the increase in the number of trains, only the quadruplication between Areeiro and Gare do Oriente will allow us to overcome the limitations that currently prevent us from strengthening the offer on the Sintra line”, he added.
The Minister of Infrastructure and Housing stated that “it is not possible” to add more carriages to the trains on the Sintra line, “because they occupy the entire platform”, and “it is not possible to immediately add more trains on a line where CP's offer is to 100% since the 4th of May. And he explained that, this is not only due to the lack of rolling stock but also because "any change in schedules on the Sintra line has an impact on a large set of passenger and goods trains that run on the numerous national lines".
“We do not ignore that the trend, from now on, will be to increase. What we have to guarantee is that the best practices of safety and defense of public health continue to be followed: that the trains are properly sanitized, that the people who ride them always wear a mask and that the distribution of people by the carriages avoids unnecessary crowds ” , guaranteed the minister.
Pedro Nuno Santos also said that “it would be positive” that the country could progressively move towards a disagreement in the hours of entry into work because “this would reduce the concentrated pressure of demand”. "While this is not possible, we will all have to seek the best balance between the need to use public transport to live and work and the right to do so in safety and tranquility", he stressed.