Juan Alfaro appreciates Renfe Operadora’s path and the company’s objectives on medium term. in addition, he talks about the future challenges and the role in passengers and freight transport in Spain.
Mafex: Renfe Operadora is the only passenger railway operator and the main freight transport operator from Spain. The latest figures indicate that many of its services broke the record in 2016. In which way does this increase in demand stand out?
Juan Alfaro: There are several factors involved. From the point of view of the railway infrastructure development and the service level regarding the passengers transport, Spain has a prominent position. There is no doubt that we are a world reference. The tourist sector registers record figures, and this is also partly due to the level of our infrastructures, as the World Economic Forum has recently pointed out. And for our part, Renfe has strived to expand our range of offers to make the train more attractive to more clients, taking advantage of its strengths: comfort, reliability, safety and long distance travel times that have been revolutionized thanks to the high-speed development. Our effort is to always make progress with the client at the core of our strategy.
Mafex: What do you consider to be the key aspects for which your company is one of the world’s railway references?
J.A.: It is clear that the large public operators are reference companies for historical reasons. However, the modernization of the railway in Spain required Renfe a very important effort regarding the management of new trains, facilities and services that has made the current Company and quality levels possible. Renfe absorbed a new technology from different manufacturers in an intense manner and a considerable knowledge in terms of signaling and traffic management and, therefore, today is a reference in providing services that are at the forefront of the world’s railway sector. However, all this makes us very demanding and we know that there is always room for better in providing the best possible service and being a more efficient company every day.
Mafex: Since January 2014, Renfe Operadora has been incorporated as a public holding company with four subsidiaries: Renfe Viajeros, Renfe Mercancías, Renfe Fabricación y Mantenimiento and Renfe Alquiler de Material Ferroviario. Is this structure’s profit positive at present?
J.A.: This is a structure coordinated by our General Directorate of Operations, which allows us to identify the key aspects of each market in which Renfe operates and the behavior conducted thereof. The adoption of this organizational structure, the incorporation of the new companies, has served to clear accounts and to promote, in a very special way, the exercise of professional responsibility, which has resulted in a greater motivation of the teams and a profit improvement.
Mafex: You took office as President at the end of 2016. What are the main challenges you face and the objectives you would like to achieve?
J.A.: We intend to always make progress with the client as the company’s primary point of reference. We want to commit to a better relationship with the client so as to provide better services. We want to continue working on the improvement of renfe.com, increasingly visited from mobile devices, and to better adapt our offer to each client’s profile. We know that in a very competitive digital environment, we are obliged to seek excellence characterizing the provision of passenger transport services, which place Renfe as a world reference brand. Our vision is also directed at freight transport services with the objective of improving our business and being more competitive in a free market. And all this go with a double business strategy: our commitment to innovation and the search for new markets, especially abroad, in which we export our experience and know-how, especially regarding the high-speed transport services’ exploitation, where we are a world reference.
Mafex: From your point of view, what role has the Spanish railway industry and respectively, the private companies played in positioning Spain as a current global leader?
J.A.: A key role as a know-how bearer and an experience that many countries want to get acquainted with. International markets are very competitive, but Spain and the group of companies belonging to our railway sector cannot miss the knowledge accumulated during these years. Due to the modernization of our railway network and our trains, the high-speed allows an economic development sustained by an industry that has always been a leading player in our country. The high-speed system developed due to the efforts of all Spaniards has provided citizens with numerous benefits and has made the Spanish AVE, 25 years later, an exportable and expanding transport means and one of the engines for socio-economic development in our country.
Mafex: As regards the world leadership, one of the most emblematic railway projects for Spain is the construction of the high-speed line between Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. What are RENFE Operadora’s functions in this consortium?
J.A.: As part of the consortium, Renfe is in charge of the operation design to the date on which the service will be commissioned, with all elements involved: train drivers’ training, maintenance schedules, commercial planning, sales channels, customer service, etc. In addition, we have worked on the design of the workshops that will serve as key support for the entire service. This is a very important and exciting challenge for the in-house professionals, capable of mobilizing the best of the company and that will undoubtedly increase the echo of our activity and our know-how.
Mafex: What aspects can you point out as the main lessons learned as regards the future projects of such magnitude in which your entity participates?
J.A.: Perhaps it is too early to draw conclusions, although it is true that a project of such magnitude increases your experience in a very intense manner. Our team has identified the key points of a project that continues to mature and we are sure that it will be a great example of railway service on its inauguration date. Moreover, if we talk about the international market, each project and each country has its own features and, therefore, they may require a specific adaptation.
Mafex: Recently, 144 applications with Spanish participation have been submitted for projects funded by the CEF Funds, “Connecting Europe”, for the development of the Trans-European Transport Network. What role does your organization play in this program?
J.A.: Renfe is committed to contribute with its innovative capacity to initiatives of high strategic value not only for Spain. In 2015, proposals for innovation projects were submitted to the European Shift2Rail (S2R) calls, which channel the entire European grant in terms of innovation until 2020, and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) calls. Among them, the proposals aimed at developing the ERTMS signaling system should be pointed out, since it is one of the most strategic innovations for Spain and based on which both its own natural evolution (simplification of validation processes, adaptation to particular needs, introduction of virtual tests, etc.), and the development of future applications on ERTMS, which allow other types of high value functionalities for railway development, are oriented towards progress. More recently, we are working on several innovation projects related to alternative traction sources, such as liquefied natural gas and hydrogen fuel cells, batteries and supercondensers, which can also be accommodated in European environmental programs, such as the LIFE Program 2014 -2020.
Mafex: Returning to the national market, according to the Plan of Infrastructures, Transport and Housing, PITVI 2012 – 2024, one of the specific objectives is to promote the railway freight transport. Could you detail the measures that Renfe Operadora plans to take to achieve this objective?
J.A.: Renfe Mercancías currently carries an economic deficit that should be surpassed in order to grow and make the railway freight transport an alternative, which is no longer necessary, but essential. To approach the future with guarantees, we have to improve the Company and our productivity in a free market.
Our effort is focused on a Management Plan that enhances the business activity, improves our exploitation ratios, makes us more competitive and, which focuses on profit improvement.
This Management Plan will allow the Renfe Mercancías Company to reach the economic balance in the next two years and consolidate its profitability starting from 2019. From thereon, we will be able to grow and enhance the necessary freight transport by railway.
Mafex: Following the last contract involving 30 high-speed trains awarded at the end of 2016, Renfe Operadora will count on one of the most modern fleets in Europe. Does the Spanish railway network provide one of the best services in this segment? What is the advantage of incorporating these new trains?
J.A.: Without doubt, in recent years, the railway service has been transformed in Spain. Twenty-five years after the inauguration of the first high-speed line, the train is the preferred collective transport means for long-distance displacements in the country and more than 35 million passengers per year use Renfe’s high-speed services. The integration of new trains is part of a logical programming process regarding the possible development of the infrastructure in different points of the network and a forecasting process regarding the service life of our fleet.
Mafex: Finally, in relation to the collaboration agreement signed with Mafex two years ago to promote the Spanish railway sector abroad, how would you appreciate the work performed based on this collaboration?
J.A.: All Spanish companies of the railway sector have the same interests as regards our international expansion and each one is a leader in its field of activity: construction of infrastructure, communications, signaling, traffic management and, in our case, operation. Mafex seeks business opportunities abroad for its associates and we are a good support to reach the objectives, especially when the Contractor requires the experience of a reference operator, like Renfe. The agreement that we have signed is the necessary tool so that the Spain brand in the railway sector may remain a world reference.