Good results for the first three months of Ouigo in Spain

Source: SNCF / Ouigo Credit: Ricard Duran Agustí

Ouigo España, which started operations between Madrid and Barcelona last May, has train occupancy rates of up to 95 per cent. The SNCF subsidiary is already planning to operate to Valencia and Alicante.

As has already been explained, three competitors will operate on part of the Spanish high-speed network, with the aim of bringing in more traffic than one state-owned company could have done. The priority is also to reduce the debt of this high-speed network, the second longest in the world, by running more trains. The current Secretary of State for Transport, which was the former president of the infrastructure manager Adif, Isabel Pardo de Vera, hope to extend the model to other routes such as Madrid-Galicia, Madrid-León-Asturias or the Mediterranean Corridor.

Train operation

At this time, the Spanish public operator Renfe has the largest share of traffic rights. While Ouigo España has already started, the third competitor, ILSA, allied with Trenitalia, will only start operations in 2022. As Renfe has launched its own low-fare service, under the name Avlo, by the end of 2022 there will be four trains operators on the Madrid-Barcelona route alone, which is exceptional.

The Director of Ouigo España, the Frenchwoman Hélène Valenzuela explains that the SNCF subsidiary have already had more than 400,000 passengers since they started operating, breaking Renfe’s historic monopoly, the day after the state of emergency was lifted on 10 May. Every day 95% of its double-decker Alstom Euroduplex trains are full (in July the average was 98%). A commercial proposal which it insists on calling low fare and not low cost because of the negative connotations, proposed between Madrid, Zaragoza, Tarragona and Barcelona. Now Ouigo España plans for the end of the year three frequencies between Madrid and Valencia, along with two return journeys from Madrid to Alicante.

High speed line

In the longer term, Ouigo España is planning their service in Madrid-Cordoba-Seville on the first high speed line inaugurated in for the Universal Exhibition of 1992, which is still endowed with the german LZB security system to which the Alstom Duplex TGV will have to adapt, and that requires tests, homologations and investment. When the programme is complete, it is planned to transport almost 30,000 people a day on the three routes operated by Ouigo.

Ouigo seeks to thrive precisely by drawing on all the technologies at its disposal that are applicable to the rail market, to the operation of its trains and to the company’s own management. In particulary to the customer side, despite the fact that neither in Atocha nor in the other stations at Zaragoza, Tarragona and Barcelona, are there Ouigo ticket offices to sell tickets. Everything is done digitally and by cloud. Innovations also in terms of company management. Every employee has a mobile, tablet and computer, with the software and hardware features appropriate to their task.

Ouigo now wants to recruit workers for these new destinations and has already started the selection process for 12 additional drivers. In the coming weeks, Ouigo will start the selection process for the on-board staff that will be part of the company. There will be 30 people who will develop sales in the train cafeteria, among other functions.

Monitor business model

So everything seems to be going well. However, Hélène Valenzuela will have to constantly monitor the business model. She wants to ensure that there is a long-term visibility on rail tolls. Adif would be in favour of decoupling its revenue model from the General State Budget and wants to be free to set the fares paid by operators according to market objectives and not to political fluctuations. Ouigo España is therefore afraid of price increases, whereas in Europe the trend is to lower prices for access to rail infrastructure. But so far, nothing has been decided in Spain.

Author: Frédéric de Kemmeter

Frédéric de Kemmeter is signalling technician and railway policy observer.

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