Spain finally admits it just can’t afford the AVE network

Here’s an interesting fact for you: Spain has this year cut spending on the expansion of its AVE network by 2.214 million euros. That’s money that was supposed to have been spent this year, but now won’t be.

That’s equivalent to:

  • more than the budget for the National Education Ministry;
  • half the National Defense budget;
  • about the same as the non-contributive Pensions budget;
  • 3% of GNP.

The graph above explains in brief where the cuts are coming from.

Since 1992, Spain has spent 42 billion euros building 2,400 kilometers of high speed train network. It has committed to spending a further 27 billion euros expanding this network.

But the weird way that Spanish politics works means that the National Government finds its easier to cut spending on hospitals or schools rather than touch the AVE network. Why?

Well, it’s a huge project that links Spain together. If you cut spending on schools, it’s the federal regions that take the can. But if Madrid stops an AVE project in, say, Andalusia, then it’s an immediate political backlash from across the region against them.

ADIF, the railways operator, despite being a state company, is running at a massive loss. Massive. In fact, it is so big Madrid has been doing everything it can to prevent it from appearing in the national books. It owes a whopping 16 billion euros.

Here’s an interesting fact: Pull the emergency cord on an AVE train travelling at 320 kph and it will take four kilometres to come to a complete stop. Those four km of track will cost some 200 million euros to build.

But the figures are too big and Madrid has had to pull that emergency cord.

It pulled it last week in Andalusia : no more AVE and the bit between Almeria and Seville that has been built will be put to some daft use as a testing track to make sure nobody has to return the EU money.

Murcia is slightly different – they’re getting their connection to the AVE network via an underground tunnel, costing at least 500 million euros. Mainly because if they don’t, the Murcian government will almost certainly fall in the next elections. The cost is supposed to be offset by selling the land of the old aboveline railways tracks, but nobody wants to buy it.

Another problem is work contracted out but not paid for. How do you stop those contracts?

ADIF currently has contracted out works to the tune of 14 billion euros. It will cost ADIF 4 billion just to keep these contracts going. Unless they run into problems. Like the Pajares tunnel on the Madrid – Asturias line. It was supposed to cost 1.3 billion euros. It eventually cost 3,3 billion.

Norman Foster designed a station in Barcelona. It’s seen massive cutbacks from the original plan. For example, the toilets in the original were supposed to cost 1.586€ each. They’ve been replaced with bog standard ones.

Or, indeed, the 19 kilometers of line in Almeria province. They spent between 750 million and a billion euros on this. Now abandoned.

But next year is an election year. Where do the cuts come from? Bits here and bit there. Always with an eye on the opposition and the electorate.

And so the massive spending carries on. Trains before hospitals, stations before schools.

Figures from this story.

2 Replies to “Spain finally admits it just can’t afford the AVE network”

  1. I support infrastructure projects like the AVE, as they are ultimately investments that will have a lasting value for decades, if not centuries, to come. Also, it is rather frightening that despite the corruption and cost over-runs, the track-mile cost of LAVs through terrain far more rugged than the UK still manages to come in at a fraction of the British equivalent for HS2.

    That said, there has still been a ton of waste on often seriously over-elaborate schemes, especially the planned for underground stations that were un-necessary (Alicante and Almeria were both supposed to have these, I believe – why?!).

    But where to go from here? The network as it stands cannot just be left without further work. The overall plan needs a serious rationalisation for sure, but opposing *all* investment in the network would be a retrograde step that would not only condemn many regional cities to economic stagnation and isolation, but would render tens of billions that have already been spent as have been completely wasted, for want of comparatively small amounts to render them useful and valuable long term assets.

    Ideally, the whole projects needs to be made a lot more transparent and there needs to be genuine debate about what the priorities should be, but that’s never going to happen, so we’ll probably get ourselves a fresh herd of white elephants before the decade is out.

  2. The problem is that if you have a high speed train you need a certain number of passengers who want to travel up and down that route
    some routes do not have enough passengers so some train journeys loose over 18000 E per journey
    There does not seem to have been any planning as to if there would be enough passengers or where they would come from in the future

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