Technology Review - Published by MIT

« Back to Technology Review

España, Technology for Life.

España, Technology for Life is a campaign to showcase Spanish tech businesses and sectors.

New Technologies from Spain

Transportation

From City to City

From City to City

The road between Madrid and Barcelona, Spain’s two largest cities and the country’s economic centers, stretches nearly 400 miles, roughly the same distance as from Los Angeles to San Francisco. By automobile, this trip takes about six hours. But by high-speed rail, which cruises smoothly at an average of 200 mph, the trip takes just over 2.5 hours.

The Madrid-Barcelona line opened in early 2008 and is one of the key achievements of the Spanish high-speed rail network, which has garnered praise from around the world. Spain’s web of more than 1,800 miles of high-speed lines is centered on Madrid and also links cities along its coasts; the country is second only to China in high-speed track mileage. Spain was also the first country to equip its high-speed network with the most advanced signaling system, which will eventually become the European standard.

This domestic experience has given Spanish companies expertise in rail construction and management, train building, signaling, and the accompanying telecommunications and control systems that high-speed rail demands to compete on the international market.

“We have a model in Spain that has worked because citizens and politicians have supported railways,” says Pedro Fortea, director of MAFEX, the Spanish railway association. “So people from other countries come to see what we’ve done—how we have cities with trams, metros, and integrated public transport systems, with high-speed connections with airports—and how institutions and private companies together have financed these projects. These are excellent references for Spanish companies.”

Spanish companies have completed or are involved in rail projects in more than 90 countries on five continents, including Turkey, Brazil, the U.S., India, and Ireland, and countries across North Africa and Central Asia. One Spanish consortium—CAF is furnishing the trains, the OHL group is in charge of engineering and construction, and Dimetronic is supplying signals—won the bidding for construction of a high-speed line between Ankara and Istanbul. OHL also recently won a contract to extend the Miami-Dade County Metrorail to the nearby airport.

India presents major opportunities for Spanish rail companies: the Talgo train manufacturing company will soon be opening an office there, and CAF is already building a factory in New Delhi. The engineering company Ineco won the feasibility study contract for one of India’s planned high-speed lines.

In the most significant news for the Spanish rail industry, a consortium of a dozen Spanish companies and public authorities was recently awarded a 12-year contract to construct, operate, and maintain a new high-speed line between Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, in partnership with the Saudi Railway Organization.

This rail consortium is the largest one created to date by Spanish companies, and the project is the largest so far of its kind. Talgo, one of the country’s two top train manufacturers, will supply the trains. OHL, Copasa, and Imathia will develop the infrastructure, and Dimetronic will supply the signaling. The information company Indra will manage telecommunications and control, and Cobra, Inabensa, and OHL will install the electrical infrastructure.

Three government-owned companies will also provide services to the Saudi project: Renfe, Spain’s national service provider, will manage operations, and its infrastructure administrator, Adif, will provide the critical expertise for the management of stations and traffic control. Ineco, a government transportation consulting company, serves as the project’s lead contractor.

“Even though we have a lot of experience developed in Spain, this is a huge opportunity to show our experience abroad,” says José Solorza, Ineco’s Asia and Africa area manager.

Manuel Benegas, director of operations at Ineco, estimates that the on-track tests should begin by the end of 2014. The Spanish Ministry of Development hopes to capitalize on this success to sell similar complete projects in the U.S., Russia, and Brazil, whose governments have stated their commitment to developing high-speed rail.

Advances in transportation management extend beyond railways, onto highways and city roads as well. Spanish companies are world leaders in the management of toll roads, expert at developing and integrating sensors and barrier-free tolls to enhance traffic flow and make ticketing easy. Other companies are pioneering parking guidance systems, which direct drivers to free spots in parking garages or along city streets.