“The Spanish railway industry is ready for the big challenges”

Víctor Ruíz Piñeiro, President of Mafex

The president of the Spanish Railway Association (Mafex), Víctor Ruiz, analyses in this interview the present of the sector, the position of Spanish companies in the world and the prospects for the future.

Mafex Magazine: Global transport is undergoing a moment of change following the events of the last year. How do you think the current situation affects the sector?

 Víctor Ruiz: First of all, I would like to highlight the important role that the railway has played in these special circumstances to ensure the supply of essential goods to the population and an uninterrupted public service. During these months it has been possible to witness how all the stakeholders in the sector have been able to respond and to provide effective solutions to ensure a fast and safe return of public railway transport.

With regards to the current situation, it should be noted that it also has an impact on the sector, but this situation will gradually reverse as soon as mobility restrictions decrease. The expectations are, therefore, to gradually recover passenger quota and increase the role of the railway in society.  It is a forward-looking approach and has great growth potential in every country in the world.

 Mafex Magazine: Many of the trends already present in terms of transport have also gained speed. Are we heading towards a new, more sustainable and decarbonised concept?

 Víctor Ruiz:  Indeed. We are at a crucial moment to promote more sustainable transport. And the railway is the best solution to a mobility that heads towards an emission-free model. Its numerous environmental advantages, of safety and territorial connection, make it the backbone of the new national and international strategies.

As an example, the railway generates only 0.5% of total CO2 emissions compared to 29.5% of other modes of transport and accounts for 9% of global mobility demand. To move 1,000 people 15 buses are required or between 250-1,000 cars compared to a single 8-car train. These figures support the railway as the best ally for a sustainable future and with a decisive role in the fight against climate change.

In Europe, for example, incentives are now focused on a revival of a green and digital economy. The aim is to meet the objectives of the European Green Deal and to make us the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. For that purpose, efforts are particularly focused on reducing emissions associated with sectors such as transport, where rates are still very high. In the coming years, the goal is to achieve a modal change with the railway as the main character.

In our country, in line with the European action plans, the Mobility Strategy 2030: Safe, Sustainable and Connected” is the roadmap for the planned actions. Both, passenger and freight railway transport play a major role in transport investment plans.

 Mafex Magazine: Aspects such as the increasing implementation of new technologies in mobility or decarbonisation bring with them great challenges that will have to be met in the coming years. Is the Spanish railway industry ready?

Víctor Ruiz:   The technological transformation of our era and its acceleration after the pandemic mark a before and after in terms of transport. Mobility as a Service (MaaS), where the user experience is key, introduces new travel approaches, as well as the need to advance with more sustainable systems.

Our industry is ready to offer innovative and intelligent solutions, adapted to all new needs and able to respond to the challenges posed by operators and passengers.

Both the consolidated path and the determined commitment to R&D in our sector, to which a high percentage of investment is dedicated, make the railway sector companies highly qualified to help achieve that model of sustainable and connected mobility so necessary for today’s society.

Mafex Magazine: Many are the countries on the five continents that opt for Spanish railway companies. What do you think are the ingredients that have led it to be a global example? 

Víctor Ruiz:  The Spanish railway industry is a global benchmark. Its companies are at the forefront of knowledge, experience, and technology. This leadership position is the result of years of work and a continuous specialisation, investment in R&D and excellence in service. Also those integrated in international groups have cutting-edge centres of excellence here that are a worldwide benchmark to innovate, manufacture and export from Spain to the rest of the world. Our industry stands for robustness, professionalism, and cutting-edge solutions.

In recent years, our companies have led the implementation of large developments by taking, for example, the high-speed experience around the world or helping to create modern metro and light rail networks in large cities. Thanks to their know-how and specialisation, they have led the implementation of ERTMS in our country and rank at the top in areas such as the hydrogen train, ticketing systems, driving automation, etc. Companies also differentiate themselves by the fact that they cover the full range of products and services that encompass the value chain of the sector. An aspect that makes them able to provide complete solutions and personalised services, adapted to the needs of each project and with a strategic expert vision.

Mafex Magazine: Is institutional support required to achieve that real boost to the railway and our industry?

Víctor Ruiz: The commitment to the railway mode must be kept in time decisively and with long term plans. Currently, our country ranks at the top of this type of networks (high-speed, metro, commuter trains, regional trains, etc.), but it is a must to continue backing the maintenance of such a prominent position. Therefore, we do consider that it is key to maintain the planned projects, not only in the modernisation of existing infrastructures, but also in the expansion of new networks for passengers and goods.

I also believe that there must be a strong commitment to R&D&I programmes and financing plans to further promote the development of the railway industry. This sustained support will make the railway the focus of mobility and allow companies to implement new solutions, continue with innovation and internationalise their services and technologies.

 Mafex Magazine: With regards to plans abroad. Is there room for the completion of new projects at this time?

 Víctor Ruiz: Some projects have slowed down, but there is still activity, as the commitment to railway is firm both in Europe and the rest of the world. Companies associated to Mafex continue to win new contracts on the five continents and this trend will be on the rise in the coming years, when there is a gradual recovery. Nevertheless, in 2020 significant results have been achieved in many international markets and projects; for example, contracts in European reference projects such as the UK High-Speed or the railway network that will link the Baltic Republics, the Rail Baltica project or the Mayan Train in Mexico. Additionally, projects of a different nature of our rolling stock manufacturers in France, Germany or Italy to name a few markets. Also Norway and Sweden as far as Europe is concerned. Ireland, not only on its national railway network but also on the Dublin Metro project. And of course, in many other countries on the rest of the continents, with a significant activity in the United States one more year. An activity certainly important and in line with the experience and know-how of our industry.

In addition, it is always worth highlighting the contracts and investments that are generated in Spain. Without them we would not be able to strengthen our industry and thus more competitively address the foreign markets where competition is fierce. It should not be forgotten that the Spanish market is key to establish a benchmark.

The data indicate that investment in this mode of transport was positive before the pandemic and this upward trend is expected to continue. The sector will grow, in the coming years, at an annual rate of 1%, driven in particular by investments in rolling stock and services, as well as investments in infrastructures, signalling and control.

Mafex Magazine: The work of associations such as Mafex is also of particular importance to the industry. What plans do you have in the short and medium term in your support to partners?

 Víctor Ruiz:  At Mafex we continue to work intensively in our effort to help and defend the interests of our 94 partners whose 2019 railway turnover accounted for more than 5.5 billion euros – of which 82% was made in foreign markets – and that employ more than 24,000 people.

To this end, we have a comprehensive plan of activities that includes continuity in the promotion of international relations and the opening of new markets adapting ourselves to the current circumstances. In 2021 we are organising online meetings to analyse trends and investments, and we will support the European Union in the events planned in the “European Year of Rail”. In addition, we once again co-organised, together with Terrapin, the Rail Live! conference-fair. We also continue to make progress on several European projects in which we participate such as E-Promat; EXXTRA, STAFFER or RailActivation, being the coordinators of the latter. All this is joined by our support to training, in order to attract talent and prepare the professionals of the future. In this sense, we will also co-organise the second edition of the “Master in Railway Engineering” in collaboration with the University of Cantabria.

Our ultimate goal is to be a support lever, a facilitating agent to make our companies even more competitive, innovative and among the most technologically advanced.