A hundred years after its inauguration, the Maceira-Liz railway branch stopped transporting cement

The Maceira-Liz railway line, which connects the cement factory with Martingança station on the western line, was inaugurated in 1921 and that year also served to transport heavy machinery to this industrial plant. Millions of tons of cement were disposed of there for over a hundred years, but in 2021 Secil decided to outsource the road transport of all of its production at this factory.

An official source from this company explains that “in 2020, for technical and commercial reasons, Secil transported significantly less cement by rail and cyclically favored road traffic”. The reasons have to do with the price and the service conditions, as “the lack of electrification of the Oeste line to Louriçal station has led to restrictions that dictate the non-preference for rail transport”.

This is confirmed by Medway (formerly CP Carga) who says that “road operations have become absolutely unbeatable, especially as the railroad solution is diesel based”.

Trains pulled by diesel locomotives have higher production costs, but both the Pataias and Maceira-Liz plants, both owned by Secil, are served by a line that has not yet been modernized. In Louriçal, 47 kilometers north of Maceira, the west line is already electrified, but the maneuvers to switch from diesel to another electric locomotive also come at a cost that makes rail transport uncompetitive.

Carlos Vasconcelos, President of Medway, has no doubts. “The electrification of the Oeste line would certainly make the railway competitive,” he told the PUBLIC.

The end of cement transport by train is not the end of this private five-kilometer branch line. According to Secil, infrastructure is “a strategic asset for the company that should remain operational in the event that its future use is required”.

What is now a deactivated line was heavily used in the past. Joaquim Pinto, a railroad worker who worked in Martingança in the 1960s, said in an interview with Gazeta das Caldas (August 5th, 2016) that “I worked the most at this station because I didn’t stop for a minute”. Four cement trains run daily from the branch to the Maceira factory. “It was necessary to train trains, couple wagons, perform maneuvers … Always with my heart in my hands, because that’s up there and any carelessness could cause the material to slide down there.”

The electrification of the west line between Caldas da Rainha and Louriçal was omitted by Ferrovia 2020, but is foreseen in PNI 2030. South of Caldas, it should be finished in 2020, but the work has not even started yet. The investment in the northern section does not yet have a schedule, so it will not be too early for rail transport to become competitive for transporting cement.

On the other hand, in January of this year, Secil started “a robust railway operation that originates from the Praias do Sado (Setúbal) camp in the Mangualde, Braga and Penafiel camps and is served by Medway”. The cement is transported in trucks from the Outão factory and shipped to Praias Sado, where trains (electric traction) of 28 wagons weighing 700 tons supply these warehouses with a three-week frequency.

“Secil is strongly committed to increasing the sustainability of its business and intends to continue using rail and sea transport to distribute cement when the cost-benefit ratio is favorable,” the company says. However, this requires better routes and more competition: “Secil obviously wants a more comprehensive, solid and operational national railway infrastructure, served by more numerous, more flexible and more competitive railway operators who provide more diverse and effective services”.

Currently, however, the cement company will only have two rail freight companies: Medway and Takargo.

In maritime transport, exports to the terminals in Cape Verde, Spain and the Netherlands are carried out entirely by sea from its private dock in Secil-Outão. And even on the domestic market, cement is supplied to the company’s sea warehouses in Aveiro, Leixões and Viana do Castelo.

The factories of Pataias and Maceira-Liz, although on the edge of the line, are still served by trucks and watch trains go by.