The railway will be the main protagonist of the direct investments included in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan

Raquel Sánchez | Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda

Mafex Magazine: In July 2021, you began a new professional stage leading a ministry key for the industrial and economic recovery of the country. How would you assess these first months of work in the face of such a significant challenge?

Raquel Sánchez: EI am very grateful for the trust placed in me for the performance of this work as a minister in such an important portfolio for our country as the Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda is.

It is an exciting challenge and to lead a ministry with so much influence in the day-to-day life of so many people is always a challenge. Since I took office, I have not stopped working on the pillars that I understand are fundamental to guarantee the fair recovery, the modernisation of our country, the generation of opportunities and the sustainable transformation of transport: housing and mobility.

To articulate this process, I consider essential to guarantee access to decent housing, promote urban regeneration and develop and implement a new concept of safe, sustainable, and connected mobility.

These objectives are fundamental not only for Mitma but for the Government, because they are also fundamental for our society. In addition, it is the commitment of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan where in the Ministry we lead the two main investments: “sustainable mobility” and “actions in housing and urban regeneration”.

Both investments total more than 20 billion euros, almost 30% of all investments of the Plan, of which in Mitma we manage almost 17 billion euros, a quarter of the total of it.

So, as I said before, from the first day I took office, I began to become aware of the work ahead of us and the exciting challenge in which we are all embarking in the ministry for the coming years.

Mafex Magazine: Mobility is one of the strategic lines of your ministry, an area with great weight in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan. What are the priority lines that have been defined to advance in sustainable transport with this historic investment?

Raquel Sánchez: As you know, on 30th April, we presented the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan. This Plan is based on four transversal axes: ecological transition, digital transformation, territorial and social cohesion, and gender equality.

We have structured ten lever policies around these four transversal axes that in turn integrate 30 components and, in this line at MITMA we work mainly on 3 of them.

First of all, we work on a “Sustainable, safe and connected mobility shock plan in urban and metropolitan environments”, in which we pursue the promotion of the decarbonisation of urban mobility and the improvement of air quality through different measures aimed at the core of the city itself and its infrastructures, as well as the promotion and optimisation of urban and metropolitan transport.

Another work component of the ministry is the “Urban Rehabilitation and Regeneration Plan”, which is focussed on the promotion of rehabilitation and improvement actions of the building park, both in urban and rural areas, within the strategic framework of the Spanish Urban Agenda.

And, thirdly, we are promoting “sustainable, safe and connected mobility”, in which our main objectives are to advance in the development of European corridors as the main backbones of our mobility, providing it with greater capacity where necessary and contributing to reducing its carbon footprint by promoting more environmentally sustainable modes of transport.
And we are proposing this through the use of cleaner energy sources; improving logistics and intermodality through the development and modernisation of logistics terminals, ports, and access to them; and the digitalisation and sustainability of freight transport, through an aid programme that places freight transport companies among its potential beneficiaries to promote their digitalisation, the decarbonisation of transport and railway freight transport in particular.

Mafex Magazine: We are immersed in the European Year of Rail, an emblematic date that highlights the great prominence that this mode of transport will have in the coming years. What priority investments are planned to continue boosting their deployment in our country?

Raquel Sánchez: The railway will be the main protagonist of the direct investments included in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan. In fact, of all investments in mobility, the Ministry will directly execute 6.2 billion euros in the railway field.

At the beginning of November, the 2022 General National Budget passed the first round in Congress by a large majority. In them, MITMA has €16,286 million of total investment, of which 6.7 billion – more than 40% – are destined to the railway. A budgetary boost that will be reflected both in our long-distance network and the Cercanías.

And in this initiative, we pay special attention to the improvement of our conventional network for which we increase investments by 55% as we have to materialise a less carbonised, more efficient, close and diversified logistics, keys to the security, competitiveness and resilience of our industrial and foreign sectors.

In this way, 4 out of every €10 budgeted in the ministry will be dedicated to advancing railway works, projects and actions. Railway investments that are going to transform into direct improvements for the citizens and also for the freight traffic. It will be a territorial and socioeconomic backbone that will be based on an expansion of services, connections and creation of new itineraries as we expand the network and complete corridors.

Mafex Magazine: The improvement of the urban environments in which the Government works also involves expanding and optimising public transport. What role will commuter networks, metro or tram systems play in these plans?

Raquel Sánchez: Cercanías is the most used railway service in our country, moving more than 500 million passengers annually and representing about 90% of all rail users. For this reason – due to its important role as one of the least polluting urban transport modes – within the mobility shock Plan in urban and metropolitan areas of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan, we have grouped a series of investments worth 1.6 billion euros that represent a change in the order of magnitude compared to those made in the last two decades.

In addition, railway services subject to Public Service Obligations (PSOs) have an essential role in the mobility, both of our main metropolitan areas and of the rest of the territory, as the numbers of users of these services demonstrate. We allocate more than 1.2 billion euros to them because we want to promote efficient, affordable transport to all, and make it more attractive to citizens.

Mafex Magazine: In terms of medium and long distances, your ministry is committed to projects to expand and improve railway infrastructure and the incorporation of new technologies to optimise operations and improve in aspects such as safety and efficiency What is the roadmap for high-speed in a country that is already at the forefront in this area?

Raquel Sánchez: In recent years, important investments have been made in Spanish transport infrastructures that have made it possible to transform our business sector, making it a world reference.

In the railway sector, Spain excels in civil engineering works, signalling, safe and efficient management of railway traffic, rolling stock supply, operation, and maintenance. We have the largest high-speed network in Europe (with more than 3,621 km of track in service) and a very competitive industrial fabric.

We are also immersed in a great process of liberalisation of inland passenger transport that will revolutionise our sector and that will be a boost for this sector to continue moving forward.

In this context, our main roadmap is to complete the planned network for high speed, but also to prioritise complementarity and connectivity between networks, to get more out of the existing network; to focus on the maintenance and preservation of the network; go hand in hand in hand in mobility and urban agenda, incorporating new trends in mobility; to commit to the culture of safety and digitally transform infrastructures …

Mafex Magazine: Precisely we are in a moment of change after the entry into force of the liberalisation of passenger rail transport. How do you think this market opening has developed to date? How do you see this new scenario?

Raquel Sánchez: The railway in Spain has made a leap in quality and performance in the last 25 years that place it as a benchmark for safe and sustainable mobility and allows a good positioning in the international markets of its entire industry. And liberalisation strengthens the sector. Strong investments in a high-speed network require the best possible operation and the greatest use for the benefit of the entire system, because, if the railway grows, the whole society wins, by reducing the negative externalities of the transport system.

In this context, Renfe began the democratisation of high speed in Spain with Avlo, its new high-speed service. A new service with which to attract new customers who, in many cases for price reasons, did not usually use high speed.
As I have already commented on other occasions, Avlo plans to expand its services to the Levante corridor and, with it, we hope to break the current mobility models between Valencia and Madrid and promote train trips between both cities with tickets starting at 7 euros per way.

Also, as a complement to the work that Renfe has been carrying out, from next year it is planned that Ouigo and ILSA will compete with the national company in various routes of our geography, which will allow us to take greater advantage of our high-speed infrastructures, which in turn will mean an increase in mobility available to everyone.

Mafex Magazine: With regards to freight transport, another investment centre for sustainable recovery: Can you detail what plans you have to increase the presence of railway in logistics chains as recommended to Spain from Brussels?

Raquel Sánchez: Our plan in relation to railway freight, Plan Mercancías-30, involves launching the most urgent and necessary actions to activate this mode of transport, both nationally and internationally.

With this we intend to recover the traffic share lost in recent decades by the railway and for this we are focussing on favouring the increase of the goods transported and their integration with the different modes of transport through actions in the existing infrastructure, on the creation of new railway accesses to the main transport nodes, on the improvement of service, on the development of new management models of logistics terminals and, of course, on the financing of all of them.

As I mentioned recently, for example, before the end of this parliamentary term we will be able to connect the port of Tarragona and the entire Camp industrial cluster directly with the rest of Europe through the Mediterranean Corridor, a key advance for our factories to gain competitiveness.

Also, in the same period, two important services for a key sector such as the automotive in Spain will be finalised: the connection of Ford Almussafes with the port of Valencia and SEAT’s possibility of directly and sustainably exporting its vehicles throughout Europe by railway.

And these are just a couple of examples since in the Budgets that we have presented for this 2022 we include 5,211 M€ for the entire Trans-European Network and for actions aimed at intermodality and logistics: railway access to ports, terminals, digitalisation of logistics chains and the actions included in our Plan Mercancías-30.

Mafex Magazine: From your ministry you also continue to work on two of the corridors of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T): the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. How is its execution evolving? What benefits will they bring to freight and passenger traffic?

Raquel Sánchez: Some of our most important railway projects are linked to the development of the Trans-European transport networks: the Mediterranean Corridor and the Atlantic Corridor.

The Mediterranean Corridor has increased its length by 233 kilometres since June 2018 after having put into service the AVE to Granada, the Alcudia-Moixent section, the Vandellós variant and the connection between Monforte del Cid and Beniel -corresponding to the AVE to Elche and Orihuela- where in addition to radically improving the Alicante connections, we have highlighted the first part of the AVE route to Murcia, and this allows us to continue with the works towards Almería and Granada.

In addition, we are in the process of awarding the change of width between Castellón and Tarragona, which will be one of the most relevant actions for the development of the Corridor as a strategic axis for the promotion of railway transport and the socioeconomic development of the Mediterranean arc and its area of influence.

In turn, we have expanded the definition of the Atlantic Corridor to include Galicia and Asturias so that these Communities can benefit from funds for the improvement of networks.

In addition, in the field of goods, I would also like to highlight the actions we are carrying out for the improvement of the Bobadilla-Algeciras and Zaragoza-Teruel-Sagunto lines, where our objective is to electrify the two lines and provide them with the capacity to operate 750 m trains.

The examples I have given are by no means all the actions we have under way, but they undoubtedly constitute some of the most important challenges for the improvement and enhancement of the railway network. On this line, the funds requested from Europe to complete both requested corridors are comparable, and, in PGE 2022, the sum of the investments planned for both corridors amounts to 3.2 billion euros.

Obviously, the analysis of the momentum and progress of actions of the size of the corridors cannot be done year after year, but over a longer period. However, we are moving forward to meet the deadlines established in Europe in both Corridors.

And we make this effort with conviction, because we are aware that they will bring advantages to the Spanish society from many points of view. It will be beneficial both to improve long-distance travel, daily mobility and, of course, freight traffic. They will be axes of territorial and socioeconomic structuring.

The movement capacity of citizens will be greatly improved by providing them with much better services, connections and frequencies than the current ones. They will also produce time reductions in key connections and the creation of new itineraries.

Companies will also have new connection, export and import systems, which will allow them to connect with European markets quickly, safely and sustainably; as well as with the different Spanish production centres and with the ports of the Spanish coast. And in addition, they will be able to do all this in a sustainable way.

We must not forget that the reduction of polluting gases is key to the 2030 goals. Road transport in Spain is the emitter of 25% of greenhouse gases and its reduction is a challenge to which both Europe and this Government are committed. It is a social need to move towards environmental sustainability, in which both Corridors will play a key role in which they will also contribute a reduction in congestion, accident rate and noise, especially in metropolitan environments.

Mafex Magazine: The commitment to the railway in our country has made us have a position of global leadership, with the support also of a very pioneering industry. Will your experience and solutions be key to advancing the pillars of the future of transport such as sustainability, digitalisation, and connectivity?

Raquel Sánchez: Spanish railway companies in the sector are present worldwide, offering innovative solutions, with standards of maximum safety and sustainability. In our railway ecosystem, today concepts such as safety, interoperability, sustainability, digitalisation … in short, quality and competitiveness are indisputable protagonists.

As a result, we are witnessing the progressive maturity of the national railway model in which our actors – the Ministry, the Railway Safety Agency (AESF), railway infrastructure managers, operators, manufacturers, vehicle and facility maintainers, etc. – are demonstrating an outstanding capacity that allows them to compete outside our borders with guarantees of success.

Mafex Magazine: In addition to being at a historic moment due to the large investments planned by your ministry, cooperation with other actors in the sector will also be key to achieving this new model of sustainable mobility. What role do you consider associations like Mafex play?

Raquel Sánchez: The work of associations like yours is commendable, and I cannot fail to congratulate you.

Your work of promoting national railway companies in forums that, due to our always committed agendas, we cannot attend institutionally, is essential to facilitate those exchanges of knowledge and information so necessary for the creation of new commercial ties.

Mafex Magazine: The year 2026 is the key date in the road map of the current ecological and digital transition of transport. Are you optimistic about the objectives that have been set? Can the great challenges that must be answered be achieved? Is it the time for the railway?

Raquel Sánchez: Indeed. Until a few years ago no one talked about replacing airplanes with trains, or eco-incentives or railway highways. Everything is in the process of change.

This year is the European year of the railway, but I risk predicting that perhaps more than the year we should talk about the decade or the century. There is already talk of hydrogen trains, of new locomotives (or four-wheel drive) capable of transporting more freight despite the slopes…

From MITMA we have a very clear progress plan, and we are very optimistic about the results we hope to achieve. In this way, the actions we have planned will have a series of significant effects on economic activity and employment.

The development of European corridors, increased interoperability and intermodality will facilitate mobility and trade, increasing industrial competitiveness and allowing access to national and international markets in a more efficient way, which will bring associated increases in economic activity. Likewise, this development of the corridors will provide Spain with greater territorial cohesion both internal and external, shortening travel times and making them safer and more economically and environmentally efficient.

The promotion of efficient and sustainable transport methods, such as the modal transfer of road to rail, will contribute to reducing Spain’s dependence on imported oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, boosting railway will contribute to reducing another series of negative externalities associated with road transport, such as congestion, noise or accident rate.

And finally, the incorporation of digitalisation and new technologies into the transport sector will result in greater competitiveness and complementarity between modes, as well as the transmission of information linked to both travellers and the logistics chain.

The railway has a future and, for that purpose, we must redefine it so that the new generations inherit a safe, fast, efficient and sustainable railway. Along these lines, a collective push is necessary so that the Spanish railway system lives up to the expectations of its users.