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The Spanish high speed officially liberalized

ADIF,the spanish infrastructure manager, has released its 10-year network statement for the “network of general interest” (RFIG), which proposes creating three high-speed packages for liberalisation expected in 2020.

The railway infrastructure manager proposes to allocate a capacity of 3,300 kilometers of its network as well as its stations on contracts of a duration of 10 years according to three degrees of traffic. It is rather new in the diverse landscape of rail liberalization. It must point out that ADIF manages also all stations in Spain, contrary for most of the railway networks in Europe where that’s the incumbent which manages stations, with a risk of obstruction when a concurrent ask an office space or a ticket office. The Italians remember very well the first year of NTV-Italo, when the new company was relegated to secondary stations and whose sales areas were circumscribed around mobile construction fences on the perron…

ADIF presented to the National Commission for Markets and Competition (CNMC) and the operators a plan for unfettered liberalization in the stations and on the network. The director of the Ministry of Development offers operators to sign 10-year framework agreements in which he guarantees the allocation of a number of daily paths ‘for the liberalization to begin orderly.’

The novelty is that the liberalization will be framed by three packages:

  • The first package (type A), the most important, is intended for use with large flows, with three trains per hour and direction.
  • The second packet (type B) proposes a frequency of one train per direction and per hour.
  • The third package (type C), is clearly intended for low-cost companies, with one train per direction every three hours, that means a few trains a day.

In addition, the opening to competition will be done on only three high-speed lines:

  • 1: Madrid – Barcelone – Frontière française et Valence – Barcelone
  • 2: Madrid – Valence / Alicante et
  • 3: Madrid – Tolède / Séville / Malaga.

The amount of traffic allowed differs between axis and depends on the packages. For example, package A allows:

  • 48 daily services (three trains per hour per direction) on route 1 and 3
  • 32 daily services (two trains per hour per direction) on route 2.

The package C, for lowcost companies, allows :

  • 5 trains per day on route 1
  • 4 trains per day on route 2 and 3.

The combined packages, which will come into effect from December 14 2020, will cover 70% of network capacity, with the remaining 30% allocated on a yearly basis.

This highly regulated system can provided a reminder to the British franchises system. In reality, the competitor buys packages of paths for 10 years, and is granted all the facilities in the station. Unlike Britain, there is nie start-up subsidies nor turnover to back to the government. That’s also not an open access like in Italy, Austria or the Czech Republic. Spain undertakes an original way here.

Interested groups can apply for all three blocks and have until July 31 to submit their nomination. The allocation of the packages will take place before October 31st.

>>> See also : NTV-Italo, seven years and now success

According to the daily economic newspaper Expansion, although Adif has registered about twenty operators authorized to provide passenger transport services, only a few have a real capacity to seize market share from Renfe, because entry into the high-speed rail market requires a large initial investment in the purchase of staff and the rental of commercial space in railway stations. The cost of entering is high.

It must also be remembered that the rental company Renfe Alquiler was wound up, making it impossible to lease rolling stock not used by Renfe. Acciona and Air Nostrum, through Ilsa, seem the most determined to become the first private rail operator, with options for a type A or B framework agreement. The company has asked manufacturers a price ranging from 17 to 20 high speed trainsets to operate on the busiest corridors. Maybe a Chinese option from CRRC, like Westbahn? Nothing is impossible, but it’s think of Talgo or CAF instead.

The French railway company SNCF, which tries to enter the Spanish market, suspects that this policy of packages is a strategy to slow down the arrival of new operators. One can analyze more finely that Spain fears highly the stranglehold of the SNCF on its network, as with Thalys, Eurostar or Lyria in Switzerland.

See you in autumn to see who will be the winners of the liberalization.

References :

2019 – Expansión / C. Morán – Adif prevé dos competidores para Renfe en el AVE a partir de 2020

2019 – International Railway Journal – Adif reveals plan to liberalise Spanish HS market


  1. Richard Sultanov says:

    This is very interesting. The Spanish HSR market is leading the way.


    • carlosghita says:

      Yes, but it still appears a quasi-monopolized market. RENFE exert higher market power as it has been endorsed package A and, at the same time, rolling stock from other newcomers has no technical conditions to run in some corridors. Then, RENFE still remains at monopolist during at least two years more in Mad-Seville and Mad-Alicante (Valencia). Antitrust authorities should prosecute these behavior largely allowed by spanish government, by the way.


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L’auteur de ce blog

Frédéric de Kemmeter
Train & signalisation - Observateur ferroviaire depuis plus de 30 ans. Comment le chemin de fer a-t-il évolué au fil des décennies ? Quel chemin de fer pour demain ? C'est ce que j'analyse.

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