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Austria to spend billions on making rail network greener

Austria will devote 17 billion euros ($20bn) to greening its rail network despite a historic budget deficit caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the government announced Wednesday in its 2021 budget.

Austria to spend billions on making rail network greener
An international train linking Bolzano and Innsbruck passes on a bridge over a highway near the border between Austria and Italy after it reopened on June 16, 2020 in Brenner, Austria. AFP

Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler, from the Green party, hailed the money as the “biggest rail package Austria has ever seen”.

The Greens have been in a coalition with the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) since the beginning of the year.

Part of the new plan for the railways is a target to make the network carbon neutral by 2035 through electrification.

Even though Austrian governments — and the OeVP in particular — are normally advocates of balanced budgets, the package presented to parliament on Wednesday by OeVP Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel foresees a budget deficit of 6.3 percent of GDP due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite this, spending on climate and environment-related projects is projected to grow by around a billion euros over three years.

A further 95 million euros will also be dedicated to a flagship project of the Green party, the so-called “1-2-3” transport ticket.

This would enable users to buy an annual ticket valid for travel on all public transport in their region for one euro per day, in two regions for two euros per day and throughout Austria for three euros a day.

Adam Pawloff of Greenpeace Austria welcomed the extra investment in climate goals as “a step in the right direction, even though more resources would be needed to meet the Paris climate targets”.

But the budget contained no steps towards a promised reform of the tax system to encourage more environmentally sustainable behaviour, he pointed out.

The WWF agreed that the lack of such reform was the “blind spot in this budget”. The current measures would not be enough for the government to reach its declared aim of making Austria carbon neutral by 2040, it added.

At present 67 percent of Austria's energy is supplied through fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

The Greens and environmental NGOs have been pushing for a tax on carbon emissions, but the OeVP have proved resistant to the idea.

In June the government had said it wanted to introduce a minimum price of 40 euros for flight tickets as well as a tax on flights under 350 kilometres (217 miles) but no further details on this have been announced.

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IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images

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