María Luisa Domínguez, President of Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad
Mafex Magazine: As the new president of Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad (AV) following your recent appointment by the Council of Ministers, how do you face this new chapter in your professional career at the head of one of the most important dynamic organizations in the railway sector?
María Luisa Domínguez: For someone who, like me, has developed most of their professional career at Adif it is an honour and an exciting challenge, as well as a great responsibility. We are immersed in a decisive time for the railway, in which, despite a context that a priori might seem adverse, opportunities prevail over difficulties.
This becomes more evident if we take into account that Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad have been able to face significant challenges in recent months: the liberalization to put more trains on the tracks and extend high speed to more families; the agreements with the Central Government, which finally guarantee the predictability necessary to undertake the investments we need; and the generational succession plan, which was an emergency measure and which will allow us to bring new talent to the house. And of course, the enormous work developed to put into service new high-speed sections: this year, Galicia and Elche-Orihuela, and later the connections to Extremadura, Asturias, Murcia and Almería, among others, with important advances in the Atlantic and Mediterranean cross-border corridors. We have also worked on our 2030 Strategic Plan, advanced on safety culture and promoted all the necessary actions to take advantage of European funds and the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism. That is why I believe that we have a promising future ahead of us, in which the railway is called upon to occupy a central place in the new mobility.
In the coming years, Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad have to spend 5,785 million euros (amount without VAT) from the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan to improve urban and interurban mobility, enhancing the Commuter train networks; reduce inequalities between territories; transform the role of the stations; promote the Atlantic and Mediterranean Corridors; promote the intermodality and goods and ultimately, to provide assistance so that no Spaniard is left behind in their right to mobility. Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad, and the railway system as a whole, will have a key role in a recovery that gives competitiveness to our society. If the railway was already standing as the epicenter of sustainable mobility, the windows of opportunity opening grow exponentially.
Mafex Magazine: We are immersed in the “European Year of Rail.” This commemoration coincides in time with the process of liberalization of passenger transport or the emerging model of new mobility. In this sense, Adif is working on a 2030 Strategic Plan to face the changes that are coming to the sector. What are the main lines of work and objectives of this programme ten years from now?
María Luisa Domínguez: The process of liberalization of railway passenger transport has been a milestone for Adif and for the transport sector in general. A process that has been conducted with the greatest transparency and that is already a reality, since May the operator Ouigo and the Avlo brand of Renfe are providing their services. It is expected that in 2022 Ilsa will start its services, the third company that has managed to have a reserve capacity for its trains. Our goal is to achieve an opening of the market with the maximum possible competition and for it to substantially increase the use of the railway network, which is a real challenge for our company. Thus, in this process of liberalization, the main beneficiary will undoubtedly be the user, who will enjoy an expanded and more competitive transport offer and the modernization of the sector.
Railway liberalization, which is being one of the main players in this European Year of Rail, is part of the paradigm shift currently facing the transport sector, in which mobility is incorporated into a broader concept than traditionally established. This means putting users at the heart of mobility policies, proposing effective solutions to their needs beyond the provision of infrastructure and the facilitation of travel between an origin and a destination.
In Adif we understand that the new concept of mobility is intimately related to the evolution of society, urban and territorial development, the generation and consumption of energy, the standard of living, the relationship of the human being with nature and its effect on the environment.
This change of course requires an integrative approach that facilitates the multidisciplinary relationships of integral and multimodal mobility. For this reason, the strategic plan of Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad is committed to a mobility policy that focuses on society, which we serve as a public entity, and it places the user and their needs at the centre and engine of the plan.
The main objectives of our 2030 Strategic Plan are security; sustainable, competitive, and intermodal mobility; the stability of public investment; and maximizing the impact of infrastructure on economic growth in the medium term, improving the standard of living of citizens and social and territorial cohesion. And in this framework, both Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad establish the main initiatives to address 11 critical challenges for the institution in particular and the railway sector in general. Challenges that will guide the main lines of work of the company in the coming years.
One of these challenges is, of course, the liberalization of the railway sector and the full implementation of the fourth Railway Package, addressing all potential railway infrastructure operators and within the framework of the Network Declaration.
But other challenges such as the implementation of the Safety Culture are equally important; combating the effects of climate change; the extension of the railway network and the promotion of mobility and connectivity; maintaining economic sustainability, with a marked focus on results; and the implementation of a plan in the face of pandemics and emergencies. To face these challenges, Adif must face others during the coming years such as the generational succession of the company’s human resources structure, the adaptation and impact to disruptive technologies and the promotion of diversity, equality, and social action.
It should not be forgotten that the 2030 Strategic Plan aims to ensure that Adif contributes significantly to the Sustainable Development Goals defined in the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations, assumed by the Government of Spain in the Agenda for Change, and developed by the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda in its Safe, Sustainable and Connected Mobility Strategy.
In short, this Plan aims to position Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad in a competitive and sustainable way in the sector of management and operation of railway infrastructures within the framework of a new vision of the infrastructure policy of Mitma.
Mafex Magazine: The pandemic has accelerated the implementation of a sustainable economic model where the railway is the central axis of the inversions in transport infrastructures. Precisely, two agreements have been signed with the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda for which 12,764 million euros will be allocated between 2021 and 2025 to promote the national network. Can you give us more details of the actions that will be carried out?
María Luisa Domínguez: The agreements signed by Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad with Mitma are a fundamental tool to guarantee the economic sustainability of both companies and the stability of investments in the medium term. Thus, we are no longer at the mercy of possible political ups and downs and a stable framework of relationship with the Central Government is established, which guarantees us the necessary economic contribution to be able to carry out our functions. All this in accordance with the priorities established in the Mobility Strategy of the Mitma and the future Indicative Strategy for the development, maintenance and renovation of the railway infrastructures that are part of the Railway Network of General Interest owned by Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad, as well as the common European railway transport policy.
The contribution of more than 12,700 million euros will be used mainly to cover the development and improvement of the railway network, both conventional and high-speed, as well as its management and administration. In this sense, two clear priorities are set: on the one hand, the Commuter train networks and the promotion of urban mobility, and, on the other hand, the development of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and its corridors.
Nor can we forget the promotion of intermodal and logistic terminals, access to ports and other transversal actions. Finally, part of these contributions will be used to compensate for the reduction in license fee revenue for the maintenance of rates in both entities.
Of course, the agreements are not a blank cheque for Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad and they thoroughly detail the commitments and obligations during the period 2021-2025, among them the fulfillment of the investment obligations; the optimization of the management of the operation of the railway network; the conservation, maintenance and efficient renovation of the infrastructure, applying safety and efficiency criteria; the coherence between investment and financing plans for the construction and administration of the network; and the implementation of actions aimed at promoting European transport policy (railway interoperability and adaptation to European standards).
In addition, both companies must achieve the agreed values with respect to various indicators with the aim of favoring a socially responsible management, which promotes the development of a safe, sustainable, efficient, and quality infrastructure system. Specifically, the provision of the service (reliability of the facilities and punctuality records), the capacity of the network (availability of the facilities), the management of the assets (compliance with preventive maintenance plans), the quality of the road, the safety levels (accidentability) and the protection of the environment (reduction of emissions) will be evaluated.
It is, ultimately, a clear commitment to railway transport, to a sustainable mobility model, which acts as an engine of growth and social cohesion.
Mafex Magazine: In terms of freight transport, will this large investment be used to promote intermodality, connections with the main ports of the State and strategic corridors such as the Mediterranean and the Atlantic?
María Luisa Domínguez: Of course. In addition to promoting the Commuter trains and urban mobility, among the main objectives of these investments is the promotion of rail freight transport, through the development of the corridors of the Trans-European Transport Network, which will be great backbones of the continent, and the promotion of the Strategic Nodes and the railway port-connections, among other wide-reaching actions.
It cannot be otherwise, because we work in line with the Freight Plan 30 that Mitma is developing, which proposes to reach a share of 10%, and with the objectives of the Strategy for Sustainable Mobility of the European Commission, which proposes the challenge of increasing freight traffic by railway at 50% by 2030 and doubling by 2050, as one of its main bets to reduce emissions. The goal is for intermodal railway transport to be able to compete on an equal footing with road transport and, to meet these challenges, a strong boost to freight transport is needed.
“Among the main objectives of the investments is the promotion of rail freight transport”.
In relation to the TEN-T corridors, Adif is immersed in different actions that require significant investments, to make them interoperable for all types of operators who are interested in channeling part of the loads through the railway. We are working on the implementation of community interoperability criteria, such as the electrification of the lines; ERTMS, the European standard System; the axle load of 22.5 tons, the sidings for trains of 740 meters and a minimum speed of 100 km/h for freight lines. These technical requirements are necessary to materialize a solidly structured and homogeneous multimodal network that will support mobility in Europe and favour the cohesion of the territories of Spain and the competitiveness of our industrial export and logistics sectors, among others.
The funds of the EU Recovery and Resilience Mechanism will be added to the aforementioned investments, which will be an important boost to continue their development and accelerate the modal shift from road to train. These funds will be the ultimate push for sustainable, safe, and connected mobility.
On the other hand, Adif is working, in cooperation with Mitma and the autonomous communities, on the development of a strategic network of intermodal and logistics terminals in Valencia, Madrid, Barcelona, Vitoria, Valladolid, Seville and Zaragoza. These nodes, which fully integrate the railway into the transport chain of companies in the Spanish logistics sector, are part of the Atlantic and Mediterranean Corridors, and have also been designed to comply with European interoperability standards and in particular, the one related to the treatment of trains with a minimum of 22.5 T of load per axle and a length of 750 meters.
Another of the pillars for the promotion of freight transport are the connections with the port network. Intermodal traffic in Spain is strongly linked to ports and in recent years the maritime-rail chain has grown significantly. It is essential that the administrations go hand in hand so that there are no load ruptures, and the logistics are efficient and correct.
Fortunately, the close collaboration that Adif has with the State Ports and the different Port Authorities is allowing the development of projects linked to the promotion of railway transport so that synergies are achieved in the large logistics nodes. To this end, it should be noted that the Financial Fund for Port Land Accessibility is consolidating itself as an effective and necessary reference and a clear example of inter-administrative cooperation.
Mafex Magazine: Today’s railway rolling stock has evolved a lot over the years. However, the way ADIF calculates maximum loads continues to be done as it did decades ago, which affects the competitiveness of freight trains by preventing them from taking on more load than they could. Are reviews and/or updates of these operating requirements planned to enable the operation of longer, heavier trains without the need for large infrastructure investments?
María Luisa Domínguez: It is true that the technique has evolved considerably. Parameters such as increased power, traction control or the development of high-strength hooks improve adhesion at start-up and can improve the load dragged.
Although the calculation formulas have several decades of use, the truth is that the experience in the network managed by Adif shows that its application is very much in line with reality. Experience has also shown that any change in the calculation of maximum loads can affect the operation if not analysed in depth. Aspects such as adhesion not only depend on the characteristics of the rolling stock, but on the location of the line, the time of year or the time of day. Humidity, accumulation of organic matter in the autumn, among others, cause situations that do not allow generalizing the maximum values of traction, since they can endanger the normal development of traffic.
That said and taking into account Adif’s interest in promoting the traffic of goods in our network, as part of the SDGs and the European strategy and the Government of Spain for adaptation to sustainable development framed in the Green Deal, we study all the possible improvements that can favor such traffic. Adif is governed by processes that pursue continuous improvement, so the revision of the regulations can be undertaken, for which the participation of the industrial sector is valued as very positive, but also of specialists in rolling stock associated with the operators or of the State Railway Safety Agency itself.
Mafex Magazine: R&D and sustainability also has much weight in Adif, which has already become an international benchmark in this field. Example of this is the pioneering technological platform Simple, the ferrolineras, etc. What plans are there to give continuity to this successful innovation strategy and environmental protection?
María Luisa Domínguez: Indeed, both innovation and sustainability have been essential in Adif’s strategy since its inception. Since our beginnings we have a department specialized in innovation, focused on the achievement of results. Innovation is configured as a key element in the corporate strategy, which constitutes a lever of transformation for the entity itself and for the sector. In the period 2005-2020, we have completed more than 100 R&D&I projects, in which more than 265 million euros have been invested. Although Adif’s contribution has been important, with more than 41 million euros, even more relevant has been the mobilization of funds from the sector, 224 million euros.
That is one of the keys to the success of our innovation activity, collaboration with the sector. At Adif we are convinced that no one innovates alone, let alone on the railway. But we have gone a step beyond collaboration. Always looking for new ways to innovate more effective and efficient, we have moved from collaborative innovation to open innovation in search of possible solutions to our needs. Open innovation is based on needs detection and intrapreneurship, technology surveillance and innovation ecosystem collaboration. Thanks to a strategic approach, Adif promotes the competitiveness of companies linked to the railway sector, fosters an environment where diverse technologies coexist and makes available to the market the results of innovation in the form of technological products.
Many of the advances achieved thanks to innovation undoubtedly contribute to the sustainability of Adif’s activity and, therefore, of the railway system. And we will continue walking in that line, now within the framework of our Strategic Plan 2030. Sustainability is one of the four pillars on which the Plan is based, along with safety, service, and results orientation. While innovation, together with communication and digital transformation, are configured as the levers to achieve corporate objectives and face the challenges of a future in which the railway must be the protagonist. All this let us not forget, with people as the engine of change.
At this crucial moment, innovation defines challenges and proposes solutions supported by concepts such as mobility as a service, intelligent infrastructures, intelligent mobility or digitalization, and its role is essential to reinforce all the pillars. The safety pillar brings together advanced solutions to raise standards throughout the General Interest Railway Network. The service pillar is a focus of attraction for technologies linked to the development of the station of the future and the increase in freight transport by railway, with solutions as innovative and versatile as the Variable Gauge Axle for Goods. Sustainability is the axis around which projects linked to energy efficiency and alternative energies applied to the railway are developed, with projects in the areas of electromobility, reversible substations and the use of hydrogen as traction energy.
In a situation in which everyone, administrations, companies, civil society, must row together to face the climate emergency, the railway is called to be one of the great protagonists in this fight where we have so much at stake. The train is already per se the most sustainable and environmentally friendly means of transport, but we must influence this quality to increase its contribution to the decarbonization of the economy and energy savings and, at the same time, encourage modal transfer to increase its share. Innovation can and should be the instrument that facilitates the changes needed to achieve those goals.
Mafex Magazine: Another area of great interest is the external projection. A year ago, Adif and Mafex signed an agreement to strengthen their cooperation, boost the Spanish railway industry and strengthen confidence in this transport. How do you assess the result of this joint work? Are these types of alliances important to reinforce the current leading position in the world?
María Luisa Domínguez: The collaboration of Adif in activities that promote and catalyze the internationalization of the Spanish railway industry and experience is one of the objectives of our strategy abroad.
Adif has been supporting the internationalization of the Spanish railway sector and its know-how for years through initiatives such as collaboration and contribution of its experience to third countries, many of which send delegations to Spain to learn first-hand about the sector, its companies, and the development of the railway network.
To all of them, Adif offers the experience of its professionals who, together with the Spanish companies in the sector, are responsible for the process of modernization of the Spanish railway network in the last thirty years. We respond to the needs of infrastructure managers, institutions and companies in other countries interested in developing or modernizing their national network or specific aspects of it.
In this sense, public-private collaboration, that is, joining forces between the different actors in the sector, has always proven to be a sure key to success, especially when it comes to valuing abroad the work that together, administration and public and private companies, have been doing in Spain for many years.
In the case of the collaboration between Adif and Mafex, both entities have worked regularly in the search and development of new business opportunities for companies and the signing of the agreement last year has only further strengthened the foundations of an even closer cooperation. All this with the common objective of promoting the competitive improvement of the Spanish business railway sector and its projection abroad.
“Adif and Mafex, both entities have worked regularly in the search and development of new business opportunities for companies”.
Mafex Magazine: In this stage of great changes where the focus is on the fight against the climate emergency, how do you see the future of the railway? Are you optimistic about the increase in its share and its prominence compared to other modes of transport in the medium term? What role are actors as relevant as Adif called to play in this development?
María Luisa Domínguez: Railway is emerging as the mode of transport of the future within the framework of the new safe, sustainable, and connected mobility. And it is, precisely, thanks to the fact that is the most environmentally sustainable mode of transport and because its modernization through new infrastructures and technologies makes it competitive in travel times and comfort.
Added to this is the process of liberalization of railway passenger transport, that is, the entry into the network of new operators, which is already resulting in an increase in the supply of services and frequencies under more competitive conditions for passengers.
The good results that are deriving from this opening process, such as the recovery of the volume of pre-pandemic travellers of the relationship between Madrid and Barcelona, lead us to continue advancing in this liberalization process and to extend it to other corridors and relationships of the network.
In this way, the railway is clearly called to attract travellers from other modes of transport, such as the private vehicle and the plane, in this case on national routes, before which high speed is positioned as a clear alternative both in sustainability and in travel times.
In addition, we consider that the contribution of the railway to society extends beyond covering a need for mobility or transport. For example, it contributes to promoting other modes of sustainable transport, such as the electric vehicle, in addition to the economic and employment recovery, thanks to the investments made annually in the construction and improvement of infrastructure.
In all this context, Adif has a double role that the entity faces with optimism and with the conviction that it is prepared to face it. On the one hand, there is the role of Adif in the construction and maintenance of infrastructures, in which it is currently facing the milestone of taking advantage of the funds from the Recovery Plan, to conclude the major corridors underway, modernize infrastructures and adapt and expand the stations to respond to the needs of travellers and turn the railway into the most competitive mode.
On the other hand, we have the increasingly important role of Adif as administrator and manager of all that railway network and infrastructure, where the challenge is a big one. It is about valuing all these assets and enhancing and maximizing their use to give a greater and better service to society, get a return in the investment made in their construction, and guarantee the sustainability of the railway system.
In this respect, the liberalization process to which I have already referred is an exciting challenge and opportunity. I dare to say that all of us who integrate Adif are not only prepared, but also excited.