Spain’s New ​​$275 Million Trains Are Too Big For Its Tunnels

Spain’s transport secretary and the head of rail company Renfe have quit over an order for trains that are too wide for the country’s tunnels.

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A photo of a train coming out a tunnel in Spain.
Tight fit.
Photo: David Ramos / Stringer (Getty Images)

Have you ever gone shopping for a new couch and forgotten to bring your measurements with you? In that situation, would you plow on and hope that the new furniture fits, or do you wait to check your dimensions before dropping hundreds of dollars? Well, Spain’s transport experts clearly fall into the latter camp, as they are reeling from a blunder that saw the country spend $275 million on trains that don’t fit inside its tunnels.

The Guardian reports that plans to update the rolling stock at state train operator Renfe have gone off the rails after “dozens” of brand new trains were found to be too wide to run through tunnels across the country. The site reports:

Three years ago, the state rail operator, Renfe, announced plans to modernize the rolling stock on narrow-gauge commuter trains and medium-distance trains in Asturias and Cantabria.

But it was revealed last month that the trains being built under the €258m ($275m) contract would be too wide to pass through some of the tunnels in the two regions.

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The new trains were due to run on routes that traversed some of Spain’s 19th-century railroads, covering mountainous landscapes. Because most trains struggle with steep inclines, the route is filled with ancient tunnels that were built to accommodate older, much smaller rolling stock. As such, the proposed trains are much too wide to fit through the tight spaces.

A photo of two trains at a station in Spain.
New game, guess the width of the train.
Photo: Cesar Arxina/Europa Press (Getty Images)

According to Euronews, rail manufacturer CAF queried the dimensions it was sent, which reportedly covered the infrastructure such as stations, platforms, bridges, and tunnels that the trains would need to work with. Euronews reports that CAF “later warned that the specifications may not be correct.”

Now, the whole debacle has reached a fever pitch after the firing of two senior officials involved in the project. The Guardian reports that last month, executives at Renfe and state rail infrastructure company, Adif, were let go over the fiasco.

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Locals are still fuming over the mess, and now two more execs have lost their jobs over the mishap. Earlier this week, Spain’s secretary of state for transport, Isabel Pardo de Vera, tendered her resignation at the same time as Isaías Táboas, the president of Renfe, handed in their notice.

But lost jobs won’t make the trains any narrower or the tunnels any wider. So, what is going to happen?

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A photo of Spain's secretary of State for Transport, Isabel Pardo de Vera
Isabel Pardo de Vera: I told them, the trains need to be this wide.
Photo: Jorge Peteiro/Europa Press (Getty Images)

Well, according to Euronews, the trains haven’t actually been built yet, which does somewhat alleviate the situation. That doesn’t mean the fix will be quick, though, as the site reports:

As the trains were still in the design phase, they have not been manufactured yet. While this minimizes the cost of the error, the time-consuming process will need to be repeated, delaying the trains’ construction.

They will now be manufactured using the dimensions of a train that already runs on the network for comparison to ensure they fit through the various tunnels. Adif will also update its infrastructure data accordingly to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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So, the moral of the story: always check your measurements before dropping cold hard cash on something shiny and new.