High-Speed in Spain: Global forefront on technologies and know how

alta velocidad española-viaducto-adif
alta velocidad española-viaducto-adif

The Spanish high-speed is 25 years old. An Anniversary that highlights the great potential of the railway industry and its innovations in the deployment of the second network of this nature from the world.

The Spanish high-speed network ranks first in Europe and second in the world ranking, just behind China. With more than 3,200 km in commercial operation, it is not only one of the largest, but it also stands out for the fact of being equipped with the most advanced breakthroughs in I+D. For the success of this pioneering development process, various factors were involved. For example, the co-operation between different Spanish manufacturers, SMEs and multinationals that have put together their knowledge and potential so as to achieve the most pioneering solutions of the market, with a high level of efficiency, quality and comfort.

The network, under the Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad responsibility, consists of state-of-the-art safety and control technological solutions implemented on the track and its control centers. In addition, it has the most modern and best equipped train fleet from the entire Europe, which belongs to Renfe Operadora.

This innovative, fast, clean and safe transport system has broken the records, as indicated by Renfe.” All high-speed services from Spain have been used in 2016 by 35,214,000 passengers”. This figure represents a growth by almost 1.8 million compared to 2015. These trains reach speeds of up to 350 kilometers per hour. Apart from the already operating sections, there are currently 1,300 kilometers in different performance phases. The high-speed lines are an example of the commitment to the railway as a transport mean in Spain, where they became a key element as regards the country’s articulation improvement and the citizens’ quality of life. All these are reflected in the guidelines drawing the Infrastructure, Transport and Housing Plan (PITVI 2012-2024).

A network with great benefits

Since 1992, the number of operational high-speed kilometers has been practically multiplied by seven. Thus, it started from 470 kilometers and reached to more than 3,200. Moreover, the benefits of this transport mean have extended from 10 to 47 cities. At present, 67.4% of the Spanish population has access to high-speed in their province. The high-speed success registered in Spain since the inauguration of the first line in 1992 is currently interpreted in its international projection.

All these developments have placed the Spanish railway industry and all sub-sectors required in this type of projects as the leading international reference point. The added value chain of this industry includes a wide range of products and services, starting with the infrastructure’s design, construction, management and maintenance stage, and up to the most advanced rolling stock. All these are able to meet any type of demand in any part of the world, with maximum quality, reliability and quality-price ratio guarantees. It is noteworthy that both big companies and the SMEs hold the top leadership positions in the world, in a sector where a great know-how and a high management capacity are required.

Modernity and innovation

The fact that Spain has one of the best high-speed networks of the world is the result of more than 20 years of joint work and experience in a very compact, structured sector with great synergy. The high-speed history in Spain has a key date, April 21st, 1992. That day, an AVE (Spanish High-Speed) train performed the first commercial transport between Madrid and Seville. Since then, as the 25th anniversary is celebrated, it constantly increases the number of persons travelling on this line. Recent figures indicate that there are more than 3,100 km of tracks and 41 stations assigned to Adif Alta Velocidad. Due to this innovative infrastructure and the 16 gauge switches installed within the network, numerous Spanish cities benefit from this service.

Future plans: More than 3,800 Km

The works and projects planned by the Government will continue to be developed in the medium-term. Therefore, Adif Alta Velocidad makes progress as regards the works and projects entrusted with the aim to reduce the distances further more and to link various territories of the Spanish geography through the high performance network. New high-speed infrastructures such as the Mediterranean Corridor, the Antequera-Granada line, the Basque Y and the link to Murcia, are still performed within the scheduled action plans, among others. Approximately 3,800 kilometers are in a study or project phase. The development of the extended high-speed infrastructure has not been exempted from challenges and threats.

Works of particular complexity

The complicated Spanish orography had to be superseded on large sections, with civil works of particular technical complexity. For this, large tunnels that are already listed among the largest of the world, as well as viaducts of important dimensions, have been designed and built. Among the most relevant, due to its features, is the tunnel of Guadarrama of 28.4 km, which is one of the largest tunnels of the world. Another most complex tunnel is the one of Pajares of 24.9 km, which is one of the largest tunnels from Europe.

These examples also include the works of great significance, such as the viaduct of Contreras, of 587 m, with one of the major concrete railway arches (261 meters of light) from the entire Europe. The viaduct over the Almonte River, located in the high-speed line Madrid-Extremadura-Portuguese border also stands out. It holds the world record in terms of viaducts-concrete railway arch. Its singularity resides in the construction of its central arch measuring 384 m. The Ardanuy, Idom, Ineco, Getinsa, Sener or Typsa engineering, among other highly specialized companies, were involved in these big successful projects. And also constructors having an extensive experience in this field, such as Comsa.

ERTMS: Signaling guides

The Spanish high-speed leading position is not only linked to the kilometers of operational lines. Spain is also a pioneer in terms of technological breakthroughs in the field of railway infrastructure signaling. It involves the country that has largely implemented the European ERTMS (European Traffic Management System) system, the most modern and advanced until present. There are already approximately 2,000 kilometers of network equipped with this system, out of which more than 1,000 are Level 2 equipped, which is being implemented on the new lines under construction.

The commitment to this new interoperable technology has made Spain to play a particularly key role in its international deployment and development. In fact, “it has been demonstrated for the rest of Europe how the technical interoperability between all providers is possible, considering that the system is implemented with high levels of punctuality and reliability, within all high-speed lines, except for the first Madrid-Seville line”, as indicated by Adif. The Spanish high-speed network consists of one of the largest interoperable routes from Europe, which passes through Barcelona and Malaga. On this section, the rolling stock equipped with ERTMS runs through an infrastructure equipped by four different manufacturers.

The connection to 17 French cities, since its commissioning in 2013, the Madrid-Barcelona-Marseille and Barcelona-Paris, Lyon and Toulouse section, should also be added. CAF Signaling, Thales, Bombardier España and Siemens España have contributed to its progress.

Developments and own technology

The network management is another environment in which Spain particularly stands out due to its technical training and the innovative breakthroughs that ensure a greater safety and efficiency. A clear example is the DaVinci system, one of the most advanced of the world. Property of Adif and developed by Indra, this is a reference tool for the railway traffic control in the Spanish high-speed. It adapts to the conventional networks and it is already implemented in different countries. This development has been able to integrate all systems consisting of the elements of a regulation and control center into a single application.

 Electrification and superstructure

In the field of railway electrification, there is the Adif catenary, entirely Spanish, called C-350 and supplied by 2×25 KV CA. The SEMI Company played a special role. To this, new developments are added to the electronic level crossing protection technology, based on which their safety is increased. As regards the track superstructure, solutions have been created for the gauge switching, such as those belonging to CAF and Talgo. These systems have generated a great interest in countries, such as Russia, which also have another measurement than the standard one. Another breakthrough has been the “Telphe” technology, by Telice, applied on the Valladolid-Leon line. It prevents the switch points from freezing. The new generation of AV4 bypasses, developed by UTE Fabrides with Adif requirements also stands out.