10 May 2021 was an important day for rail transport in Spain. Adif, the Spanish railway infrastructure manager, welcomed Ouigo trains onto the high-speed network, thus making competition in high-speed rail traffic a reality after a long and complex process.
As of 10 May, passengers can travel on ten Ouigo trains per day – five each way – on the Madrid-Zaragoza-Barcelona route. Ouigo, an SNCF subsidiary, is the second company after Renfe to operate on Adif’s network, and both will be joined in 2022 by Ilsa (owned by Air Nostrum and Trenitalia), who will also offer high-speed rail services.
Opening up to competition is a key milestone for Spain and for Adif, who have successfully handled the complex process of liberalisation by managing allocation of capacity to these three companies on the basis of transparency and non-discrimination. All three have signed ten-year agreements on the provision of high-speed services on the Madrid-Barcelona route, Madrid- East and Madrid-South. Under these agreements, the network’s capacity will increase by 65% compared to pre-liberalisation.
Higher train frequency will contribute to a more intensive and efficient use of the existing and future rail network. The main beneficiaries of this will be the citizens, who will enjoy improved operator service quality and more competitive prices.
Adif expects to significantly increase income from track access charges due to increased rail traffic over the next few years. This will help to accelerate amortisation of public investments made to deploy more than 3,500 kilometres of high-speed lines and will boost the already booming railway sector in Spain.
Liberalisation of the European market
Liberalisation of the rail sector has been driven by EU regulation, starting with freight in 2005 and followed by international rail travel in 2010 and then tourist trains in 2013. The liberalisation of commercial passenger transport services, initiated in 2016, culminated in opening up to competition as of 14 December 2020, although the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a brief delay.
In Spain, a number of business groups were keenly interested in participating in the liberalisation process. Thus, the implementation process required clear criteria that would prioritise capacity allocation on main lines and at terminals in accordance with actual capacity.
The measures implemented as part of the resulting adaptation plan included reorganising rail traffic, making land and space within stations owned by Adif available to the various operators, and signing framework agreements. Adif’s charging system has been consolidated in order to ensure stability and certainty for companies.
In parallel, Adif is working on various projects aimed at reducing saturation at large high-speed railway stations such as Madrid Puerta de Atocha, Madrid Chamartín and Barcelona Sants. Such stations are key rail junctions, but their limited capacity for growth due to their central locations on the urban network represents an obstacle to the liberalisation of the sector which must be tackled.