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Entire short- and medium-distance train network run by Spanish Government in Catalonia collapses

There has been railway chaos throughout Catalonia due to a major failure in the control centre of the IT system of the network run by Adif and operated by Renfe, two public companies both owned and managed by the Spanish Government. This incident is to be added to a long list of problems in this network during the last decade due to a lack of investment by the Spanish Government. All the short- and medium-distance trains in Catalonia using Adif's network stopped completely between 6.30 am and 7.45 am, affecting some 200 trains and 80,000 people at the start of rush hour. Trains started to work again with more than a 1 hour delay and took the entire morning to gradually recover the accumulated delay, but parallel services have also been affected, such as the High-Speed network, where a train was stuck for 2 hours in a tunnel.  The Catalan Government considers the situation "unacceptable" and demands immediate investment, or it will request the transfer of the infrastructure.

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21 May 2015 08:59 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- There has been railway chaos throughout Catalonia due to a major failure in the control centre of the IT system of the network run by Adif and operated by Renfe, two public companies both owned and managed by the Spanish Government. This serious incident is to be added to a long list of problems which have occurred in this network during the last decade mainly caused by a lack of investment in infrastructure by the Spanish Government, as opposed to the high levels of public funds invested in Madrid's rail network.  All the short- and medium-distance trains in Catalonia that use Adif's railways stopped completely between 6.30 am and 7.45 am, affecting some 200 trains and 80,000 people on board, just at the start of rush hour. Meanwhile, the network run by the Catalan Government was functioning without problems and indeed has registered very few incidents in the last years. When the Renfe trains gradually started to work again around 8 am, they were running with more than a 1 hour delay and took the entire morning to gradually recover the accumulated delay.


Thousands and thousands of people arrived late to work today, without Renfe offering information about estimated times or providing alternative transport means. Passengers were outraged by a situation that happens all too often, in a network where there is some sort of incident or delay almost every day. This Thursday's overall delay was gradually reduced in the hours that followed but delays continued to affect most of the trains circulating for the entire morning and even parallel services, such as the High-Speed network (called AVE). One AVE train was stuck for 2 hours in a tunnel, coinciding with the surrounding chaos.  The Catalan Government has stated that it considers the situation to be "unacceptable" and has demanded immediate investment to upgrade the network. Otherwise, it will request the transfer of the infrastructure and the service.

Passengers outraged with Renfe's service

"I've been using [Renfe] for the last 10 years and it's a mess", complained Daniel Asensi this morning, who got stuck on his way to work. Asensi crosses a large part of Barcelona's Metropolitan Area each morning, travelling from his home in Sant Celoni, in the north-eastern edge of the Catalan Capital's Metropolitan Area, to Bellvitge, a neighbourhood of L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, located between El Prat Airport and Montjuic hill. There is a short-distance train line that covers the 60 km distance between the two areas operated by Renfe. However, it registers some sort of incident almost every day. Furthermore, Asensi complained about the lack of information: "The information screens do not work...as always…as always", he stressed. "They say they will fix them" but what “they have to do is change the company", he added.

Another passenger, who was coming from Zaragoza and was waiting at Barcelona's Sants Station to take a short-distance train to Barcelona El Prat Airport to catch a flight, was also affected by the lack of information. "I've been waiting for a while already, but more important than this is the fact that I don't know for how long I will have to wait, so I cannot make any time estimation and I will probably have to take a taxi", he told ACN's Raul Murillo.

The lack of information not only irritated passengers but caused additional problems. In the middle of the morning’s chaos, when trains started to circulate again, many information panels were giving wrong information or were not informing about which trains were arriving. Manuel Ordóñez was in Tarragona and was supposed to travel to Torredembarra to go to work, an 11 minute journey in the direction of Barcelona. However, in the middle of the chaos he accidentally took a train that was going directly to Barcelona, without making any stops in between. Once he arrived at the Catalan capital, 80 km north from where he was supposed to go, he had to find a train to go back and finally arrive at his destination, where his boss had already been waiting for him for quite a while.

The IT system collapsed

The reason for this Thursday's chaos is not directly related to the historical lack of investment in infrastructure in the rails, the electrical system or the stations of Adif's short- and medium-distance network in Catalonia, but to a failure of the IT system, provided by the external private company Schneider. However, in the minds of the thousands of people that each day use this service and are affected by incidents day after day, this Thursday's chaos is just another episode in the unacceptable and long list of problems of the last decade.

In fact, in December 2007 there was already a massive demonstration in Barcelona, which came after a chaotic summer and autumn of constant delays in the Renfe service provided in the Catalan capital’s Metropolitan Area. It is in fact one of the first demonstrations where many citizens started to ask for “their right to decide” how to manage infrastructure, another ingredient of the current pro-independence movement. Meanwhile, the Spanish Government was investing billions in enlarging and upgrading Madrid's short-distance train network during the 2000s. The Catalan Government back then requested the transfer of the service, in order to guarantee investment.

The main part of the service is still run from Madrid

In December 2009, the Spanish Government transferred the management of secondary parts of the service such as cleaning, corporate image and time schedules. However it did not transfer the railway infrastructure, the stations, the electric systems or the trains. Therefore, the main part of the service was still directly managed by Spanish Government-owned companies, Adif and Renfe.

This Thursday's incident has put the total transfer of the service to the Catalan Government once again on the table, particularly taking into account the fact that the network run by the Catalan Executive works without major incidents and has a high approval among its users. This network, called Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat (FCG), was built and expanded due to the insufficient geographic coverage of Renfe.

The Catalan Minister for Transport, Santi Vila, requested an urgent meeting with Adif's President, Gonzalo Ferrer. Ferrer came to Vila's office the same morning and could not guarantee that this sort of incident would not happen again. In fact, he admitted that they are providing "a terrible service" and that incidents such as this Thursday's "cannot happen". He also did not rule out the possibility to issue a fine to Schneider for the major failure of the IT system. A few hours later, the Spanish Ministry of Transport announced it was stopping Schneider’s contract for this unacceptable incident.

The Catalan Government may ask for the transfer of the service

Vila explained that they "firstly" had requested Adif to give them "a detailed explanation not only about what has happened – which seems to be already known – but also about which measures they are envisaging to make sure this does not happen again". He then sent a clear warning message: "if these incidents are not clarified in a convincing way within the next few days and they have not taken measures to prevent this from happening again, the Catalan Government will demand the complete transfer of this service".

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  • A short-distance train at Mataró station is ready to work again after the morning chaos (by J. Pujolar)

  • A short-distance train at Mataró station is ready to work again after the morning chaos (by J. Pujolar)
Entire short- and medium-distance train network run by Spanish Government in Catalonia collapses