29th November 2023
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Spanish transport officials resign over ‘trains too wide for tunnels’ scandal

A ‘monumentally botched error’ in the designs of trains for two of Spain’s northern regions, Asturias and Cantabria, has led to the resignations of two of the country’s top transport officials, bringing to four the number of people who have lost their jobs because of the controversy this month.

A total of 31 narrow-gauge commuter and medium distance trains worth €258 million were ordered in 2020 from Spanish firm CAF for Asturias and Cantabria, but it emerged just weeks ago that under the original designs the trains would have been too wide to fit in some of the tunnels in the regions.

Built in the 19th century, the rail network in northern Spain crosses a mountainous landscape and it has varying tunnel sizes that do not adhere to standard modern dimensions.

CAF had realised in March 2021 that the dimensions it was provided for the trains were not correct and stopped building them.

RENFE stressed that there was ‘never any risk’ that the 31 trains would have been built since CAF was obliged by its contract to verify the dimensions before starting construction.

Nevertheless, the error means the trains will only be delivered in 2026 instead of 2024 as initially planned, RENFE said.

Isaias Taboas, who has headed Spain’s state rail operator RENFE since June 2018, resigned on Monday, following the outcry.

Spain’s Secretary of State for Transport, Isabel Pardo de Vera, who used to head state rail infrastructure operator Adif, also stepped down on Monday over the scandal, the Transport Ministry said.

Adif and RENFE have opened a joint investigation to determine how the mistake happened. Spain’s Transport Ministry had already earlier this month fired two senior rail officials over the affair — a RENFE manager and Adif’s head of track technology.

The head of the regional government of Cantabria, Miguel Ángel Revilla, had called it a ‘monumentally botched job’ and demanded that heads roll over the affair.

Speaking to reporters on Monday after the announcement of the resignations, Revilla demanded ‘compensation’ for his region.

Both Spain’s central government and RENFE have repeatedly said that the error was spotted early on and no money has been wasted.

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