The Spanish railway industry, at the forefront in innovative solutions for urban public transport systems


Urban rail transport has been one of the most resolutely followed ventures in recent years in Spain. This impulse has placed the country at the forefront in metropolitan railway, tramway, light rail and regional rail systems. Currently in medium and large sized cities, these means have become the main axes of mobility, largely due to their overriding advantages from an environmental viewpoint, as well as their capacity, ease of use and comfort. For their development, the operators have undertaken ambitious expansion and modernisation of facilities projects; a process in which cutting-edge innovations contributed by the industry have been incorporated. These advances have resulted in one of the most impressive net- works in the world.

Backing metropolitan railways and tramways
At present, seven Spanish cities have metropolitan railway systems: Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga Valencia and Seville . In addition, there are light rail and tramway systems in 11 cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Valencia, Tenerife, Saragossa, Murcia, Alicante, Seville, Vitoria and Granada.

These are joined by an extensive commuter network, run by Renfe Operadora, which is the cornerstone for the daily movements of all urban centres. In this segment, the figures indicate that it continues to grow at a steady pace, since in 2017 they transported 423 million passengers, with demand levels 3.6% higher than in 2016.

The implementation of this extensive diversity of urban systems has led to a very high degree of exce- llence. For example, it has led to a reduction in the parameters of cost / km built and construction times compared to those in other countries. In the case of the Madrid Metro, these measures have served the World Bank as benchmarks in project financing.

Furthermore, all these years of work have also endowed the industry and the corresponding operators with a high level of technology and efficiency in the comprehensive management of projects of this nature: design, implementation and service start-up; modernisation of control systems; accessibility, operation, network surveillance and maintenance. They have also become a leading light in terms of innovation in the means of fi- nancing infrastructures, alternative sources of income generation, profitability or in the integra- tion of suburban as a public space of coexistence, etc.


The Spanish commitment to R&D has also borne fruit in all areas of urban rail transport. Companies and operators have searched for the best options to enhance the metropolitan, tramway and regional rail networks as the optimal solution for mobility needs in large population areas. In this way, innovative advances have been introduced to achieve cities with sustainable, modern, efficient, respectful with the environment and high capacity networks.

In Spain, challenges of special relevance have been faced and overcome that have served as an example in the development of systems throughout the world. Amongst these, for example, the implementation of the longest network of automatic metro line in Europe, L9 in Barcelona; catenary- free tramways, such as the Saragossa one, tram-trains in Alicante, braking energy recovery systems in Barcelona and Bilbao, signalling, access controls, etc.

International consultants

This background has led many administrations to request the support of consultants and engineering to put into service new networks or expand existing infrastructures.

The extensive experience, the ready availability of highly specialised multidisciplinary teams, as well as the sturdy international reputation endorse this demand in studies, projects, work management and technical advice. The complete and integrated outlook in the development of transport systems allows them to participate in all phases, from planning to design, construction and operation of the line, and cover all the technical disciplines involved with their own professionals, boasting experts in each of them.

Along the same lines, in the field of infrastructures the weighting in design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance phases is increasing. This is reflected in the fact that the Spanish firms have spearheaded the largest metropolitan railway works in recent times (Riyadh Metro, Lima, Doha, Panama,etc.). In this segment there are also a multitude of specialised products and services such as the manufacture, treatment and machining of parts and series of great technical complexity in carbon steel or manganese; the installation of equipment, changes and crosses; high-end auxiliary relays for critical applications, electrical systems, state-of-the-art rails, track devices, etc.

In terms of rolling stock there have also been nume- rous advances. New generations of trams and light rail systems have been developed in-house at premises of different manufacturers located in Spain. These are innovative train families adapted to current needs. They stand out for their modular and flexible design, thereby being versatile and adaptable to different traveller flows. Advancements have been made in pioneering technology such as energy storage systems that allow for the circulation of light vehicles without catenary. An achievement that contributes significantly to energy efficiency. They have also made available to the market a range of fully automatic underground rail systems, with vehicles that do not require the installation of driving cabins or personnel on board during its operation. Also worthy of special mention are the new train / tram type transport solutions. This option has been specially designed to link urban centres with their populations. For this purpose, some units have been created that provide service not only along the tram lines of the city, but also connect with other urban centres, thus taking advantage of the infrastructure of regional commuter lines.

Advances in all fields

Spanish advances have contributed to key aspects such as energy efficiency. Thanks to its contributions in R&D a new system has been devised that makes it possible to recoup between 10 and 30% of the energy from the regenerative braking of vehicles and use it for the internal consumption of the facilities. A highly suitable solution for suburban rail, underground and tramway services, which feature numerous stops.

In terms of ticketing and passenger information, Spanish companies stand out for their innovative te- chnology, with their own specialist software developments. They are leading brands in the spheres of access control and sale of trans- port tickets throughout the world. Amongst their most important proposals are the manufacture of tickets and magnetic cards in all formats, the widest range of smart card products on the market, con- tactless cards and equipment with the highest performance levels, along with the application of LED technology.

Comprehensive Solutions

In the field of signalling, wholescale solutions are provided based on advanced families of interlocking systems and platforms of integrated control centres; together with a high capacity of Engineering and integration of third-party subsystems. In this segment, systems such as Da Vinci, the result of a fully-fledged investment in R&D+I, have become the world reference platform for railway traffic management.

In addition, the new advances in railway signalling allow an increase in the capacity of the lines before an increase in demand and respond quickly to any incident. Compared to other conventional systems, wi- reless communication technology is used, which allows to substantially increase the operating frequency, and is becoming adapted on account of its greater safety and ope- rational capacity, in all rail transport systems.

The Spanish industry is also at the fore in the introduction into the market of intelligent communication systems in the train (CBTC-Communication Based Train Control) which provides the operational flexibility necessary for an optimal use of capacity, since it allows for more trains traveling at a higher speed in a safe way and according to the fluctuation in the number of users. Furthermore, with CBTC the exact position of each train can be  accurately determined. o less remarkable are the strident efforts in the field of R&D carried out by the entire auxiliary industry chain, which has meant the companies are ranked in the highest positions. Amongst these, for example, the latest progress in the search for new materials to lighten the weight of vehicles, the equipment in railway workshops, telecommunications cables, signalling, instrumentation, data and fibre optics, solutions for water treatment both in consumption and discharges, distribution of electrical equipment, telecommunications cables, instrumentation, data and optical fibre etc.

Thanks to the collaboration of companies with universities and technology centres, significant results have been forthcoming in the transport and mobility sector. For example, the development of a system of wireless charging of trams that does not require, unlike conventional methods, any type of direct electrical contact, such as catenaries, cables or plug sockets, to recharge the trains’ batteries. A long list of research projects that are part of European collaborative projects.

Challenges for the future

Beyond all these achievements, the dynamismoftheSpanishrailway industry continues to work towards the urban railroad of the future. Along this research line, standout projects include the participation of Spanish companies in multidisciplinary groups (manufacturers, operators, builders, suppliers, engineering, etc.) to invent this modern future.

An excellent representative example of this is the Shift2Rail programme, under the auspice of the European Union, which is structured around five Innovation Programmes (IPs) covering all the different technical and functional railway subsystems, these undoubtedly benefiting transport in major cities and their adjoining areas. In their unyielding commitment to safe, modern and endowed networks with the best advances, Spanish companies continue to devote a large part of their resources to R&D.

The aim here is to respond to the sector’s needs and contribute their findings in the challenges posed in multiple fields: smart mobility, efficient infrastructure, sustainability, automation, ‘Smart Track’, impro- vements in the passenger experience, profitability of networks, etc. In short, to continue to lead the unstoppable technological evolution of urban transport.