Layoffs at Adif and Renfe after design debacle: train too big for tunnels
An error in the design of the new fleet for the Spanish metric gauge networks in Asturias and Cantabria will likely delay delivery of the rolling stock by several years. The current train design means that the vehicles will not fit through some of the tunnels on the routes. The Ministry of Transport has commissioned an internal audit, but two managers at Adif and Renfe have already been dismissed.
The first trains were originally planned to be ready around October 2024, the design failure will however delay operations with the new trains in the two regions. Renfe awarded the contract for the trains to Spanish manufacturer CAF in June 2020 for 258 million euros. 21 trains are assigned to the Cantabria metric gauge network and 10 trains to Asturias.
The Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda clarified the situation in a statement this week. The error in the definition of the train sizing was detected while still in the design phase, so no train had been manufactured yet and no public expenditure has been produced or incurred as a result of this situation. The error means a redesign is necessary, delaying the manufacturing process.
Where did it go wrong?
Although the results of the audit commissioned by the transport ministry are still pending, fingers are already pointing to Renfe as the presumed culprit. According to El Español, Renfe had been handling reports since 2021 warning that there were trains that would not fit in the tunnels, and it did nothing to remedy the situation. The newspaper says it has viewed a report of the State Agency for Railway Safety (AESF) from September last year. More specifically, it had a note issued by the AESF in which such a problem was put “in black and white”.
The error in the train design is attributed to misinterpretation on the side of Renfe of the Declaration on the Network, prepared by rail infrastructure manager Adif. This declaration does not publish the gauge of railway lines. Sources in the railway sector familiar with the situation told El Español that “it seems that Renfe interpreted that the standard gauges of the Gauges Railway Instruction are those existing throughout the network, without realising that they are the ones applied in new and refurbishment works.”
The paper says that in March 2021, AESF confirmed that the current infrastructure it concerns does not comply with the GEE10 and GED10 gauges defined for new construction or refurbishment actions in the ‘Gauges Railway Instruction’ on numerous points. Thus, the application of gauges could lead to the manufacture of a train with dimensions considerably smaller than those of the current trains that it will replace.
New design to be completed by this summer
A working group led by the Ministry will be set up to monitor the next stages, in which the governments of Cantabria and Asturias have been invited to participate. According to the Transport Ministry, efforts are being made together with CAF so that the design phase can be completed this summer, speeding up the manufacturing time.
Currently, two persons with a responsibility regarding the situation have now been dismissed. Renfe president Isaías Táboas dismissed the person who was manager of the Material Management area of Renfe Viajeros at the time of the narrow gauge trains project from his responsibilities, the operator said in a statement. Adif has dismissed the head of its Inspection and Track Technology headquarters as a preventive measure, various Spanish media report. Spain’s Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, Raquel Sánchez had already said on Saturday that there would be dismissals at the public companies.
General Secretary for Infrastructures, Xavier Flores, stated in the broadcast 24 Horas that “It was the first time that we were faced with buying a train on this line.” He assured that according to the strict application of the regulations followed for gauges “could cause the trains to be smaller than necessary” and added that “they already have a solution” and that they are working on it. Renfe has reached an agreement with CAF, Adif and the Railway Safety Agency to unclog the problem. Although no specific timeframe has been announced, it is speculated the error will delay the delivery of the train by two to three years.