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Spain Buys Trains That Don’t Fit through Tunnels

Train in Asturias, Spain
Two senior train bosses in Spain have resined over a costly mistake. Credit: Savh / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Two top Spanish transport officials quit their jobs after ordering trains too wide to fit through tunnels.

The order for the new commuter trains amounted to nearly €260 million, although the Spanish government claims that the mistake was detected quickly enough to prevent financial losses.

Spain’s train operator, Renfe, placed the order for the trains in 2020, but the manufacturer CAF realized that the dimensions provided for the trains were inaccurate and halted further work. The mistake has delayed the delivery of the trains by at least two years.

Top Spanish transport officials quit over train mistake

Two of Spain’s senior transport officials were compelled to resign over the botched train order. Isaías Táboas, the head of Spain’s rail operator Renfe, and Isabel Pardo de Vera, the secretary of state for transport handed in their resignations after the mistake was revealed by the local newspaper El Comercio in late January.

In 2020, Spanish train operator Renfe ordered 31 commuter trains to replace an ageing fleet of trains operating on the inadequately connected route between the northern autonomous regions of Asturias and Cantabria.

The vehicles were originally scheduled to be completed by 2024. However, the blunder and the subsequent need for revisions have probably pushed back the completion date by two years to 2022.

The trains were still in the design phase when the mistake was detected and CAF had not yet begun construction. If the manufacturing process had started, the costs of the mistake would have been much higher.

The new trains will be constructed based on the dimensions of an older train for comparison which already runs on the line in question.

How was the mistake made?

Spain’s national rail operator Renfe, rail infrastructure manager Adif, transport manufacturer CAF and the State Agency for Railway Safety (AESF) have all been implicated in the blunder.

Renfe claims that it gave CAF the measurements based on infrastructure specifications provided by Adif. Engineers at CAF later realized that the specifications were incorrect and notified Renfe.

The trains, now known to be unsuitable, were being built according to modern rail specifications. However, the rail network in Asturias and Cantabria was built in the 19th century and does not adhere to modern standardized specifications. The region is mountainous, and the tunnels that cut through the rock were not built to a standard size matching modern specifications.

A Renfe rolling stock manager and Adif’s head of inspection and track technology have already been dismissed from their positions due to the debacle. Later, Isaías Táboas and Isabel Pardo de Vera handed in their resignations on February 20.

Spain’s transport minister Raquel Sanchez claimed that she was unaware of the blunder until it was leaked by the media in late January. To get to the bottom of the issue, she has claimed an internal audit.

However Spain’s Secretary General for Infrastructure, Xavier Flores, said that he had been made aware of the issue months ago.

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