Thursday 23 February 2023

Spanish Transport Secretary Resigns After Designs for New Trains Are Too Large For Tunnels

Spain’s secretary of state for transport and the head of the state rail company have resigned amid continuing public and political anger after it emerged that dozens of new trains ordered for two northern Spanish regions were too big to fit through some tunnels.

Three years ago, the state rail operator, Renfe, announced plans to modernise the rolling stock on narrow-gauge commuter trains and medium-distance trains in Asturias and Cantabria.

However, it was revealed last month that the trains being built under the €258m (£227.5m) contract would be too wide to pass through some of the tunnels in the two regions.

Miguel Ángel Revilla, the regional president of Cantabria, described the project as a “bodge” and called for urgent action, while Adrián Barbón, the president of neighbouring Asturias, said he was “baffled, angry and disappointed”.

The firing last month of two senior officials – one at Renfe and the other at the state rail infrastructure company, Adif – proved insufficient to placate those angry over the poor planning and the consequent delay.

On Monday, Isabel Pardo de Vera, Spain’s secretary of state for transport, tendered her resignation, as did Isaías Táboas, the president of Renfe.

The Socialist-led coalition government of prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has tried to make further amends by announcing that travel on the Asturian and Cantabrian networks affected by the delays would be free until the new rolling stock began to come into service in early 2026.

“From the moment I found out about this matter, I’ve done everything I could to find out what happened and to find a solution,” Spain’s transport minister, Raquel Sánchez, told reporters after meeting Revilla and Barbón on Monday.

“From the outset, we’ve accepted responsibility, said sorry, recognised the mistake and determined responsibility. We’ve also begun an internal audit and put together a working group to find a solution and speed up construction of the trains as much as possible.”

The government has, however, previously been at pains to insist that the errors had been spotted before any train was built, and that “not a single euro of Spaniards’ money has been wasted” as a result.

“The search for, and approval, of the optimal solution when it comes to designing most spacious, modern, fast and efficient train possible, while also bearing in mind the singular rail infrastructure has not led to any wasteful use of public resources,” the transport ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The situation would have been worse, it added, had smaller trains been built that had failed to live up to travellers’ expectations.

With regional and municipal elections at the end of May and a general election to be held before the year’s end, the opposition conservative People’s party (PP) has sought to portray the mis-sized trains as further proof of the government’s shoddy approach to policy.