The purchase of 31 commuter trains ordered by the Spanish Renfe in 2020 is agitating politics in the country, as the trains are too big to fit in its rail network’s tunnels that do not adhere to standardised modern dimensions.
The gaffe was exposed by the local newspaper El Comercio only las month, triggering a wave of debates and blame-games. In fact, several parties played a part in the fiasco that cost €258 million, including Spain’s national rail operator Renfe, rail infrastructure manager Adif, transport manufacturer CAF and the State Agency for Railway Safety (AESF). Renfe says it provided measurements based on infrastructure specifications provided by Adif, after granting the manufacturing contract to CAF. Later on, the transport manufacturer warned that the specifications may not be correct.
Since the scandal was made public, two senior officials have been dismissed — a Renfe rolling stock manager and Adif’s head of inspection and track technology. Spain’s Transport Minister Raquel Sanchez says she didn’t know about the situation until very recently. She has launched an internal audit to assess who was aware of the issue and why it wasn’t discussed earlier. Spain’s Secretary General for Infrastructure, Xavier Flores, has admitted that he knew about the situation months ago.
2. New trains in 2026
Luckily for all the parties, the trains were still in the design phase and have not yet been manufactured. While this clearly minimizes the dimension of the error, the whole process needs to be launched again for the trains to be ordered and manufactured. The Spanish Transport Ministry is expecting to have the new trains in 2026, a two-year delay from the original deadline.
The goal now is to have a design valid in the summer to assemble the prototype. “When the design is finished, we can give more accurate deadlines,” said a spokesman for the Ministry, who recalled that “the solution is complex, it’s not like changing a costume”. The Spanish government said it has asked the manufacturer for “a detailed calendar where deadlines can be adjusted”, quoted by El País.
While this episode sounds very unusual, a similar situation happened in France in 2014. The case was even worse since the 2000 trains ordered by the French train operator SNCF were already made. Again, the error was caused by data from the infrastructure manager that did not account for older structures.