Strike at Renfe: consequence of poor political management of rail transport
Andrei Boar, Professor of Finance, Accounting and Control
Expert in Mobility and Infrastructure
Between 30th September and 12th October, several days of strike affect Renfe all over Spain. The causes indicated by the Semaf Machinery Union as a cause of the strike affect their working conditions, the availability of trains and the transfer of Renfe's powers to the Autonomous Communities that request it.
The causes of the strike
As a result of the Covid-19, with the mobility restrictions imposed, some of the trains that were removed have not been in circulation again, reducing the number of trains available. This has also happened with engine drivers. On the one hand, some of those who were fired have not returned, and the new ones they have hired, are not allowed to operate for the moment because of the training conditions that Renfe applies and which they are currently unable to comply with.
The main cause of the strike is political and stems from the huge difference of opinion between the trade unions and the Ministry of Transport which, for the moment, does not seem to be resolved.
Despite being weighty reasons, the main reason for the strike relates to the transfer of Renfe's powers to the Autonomous Communities. In the coming weeks, a new transfer of competences will be made to Catalonia, which already has most of them, and in the future it will be transferred to all those communities that request it. This does not suit the train drivers, as it can create differences in their working conditions and as a result of a 2007 agreement, conditions must be homogeneous throughout Spain for all staff.
In practice, the main cause of the strike is political and stems from the huge difference of opinion between the unions and the Ministry of Transport which, for the moment, does not seem to be resolved.
The great victims of the strike that will last around two weeks are the users. Although minimal services were set up to 85%, they were not fulfilled because of the incomparence of the train drivers, who were either not convened or there was some error in the notification. In practice, less than half of the trains run.
As a result of early days hits, many users (up to 50%) chose to change the train on the road, either on buses (filled with people standing) or on immense queues at the entrances of large cities because of the use of the private vehicle.
The solution to the conflict: a new railway model
Although the parties are at present very far away, the solution to the conflict is fully political. On the one hand, for years, more investment has been claimed in Rodalies and Renfe in general. Above all, investments in the rail network need to be chosen well. While EUR 73,000 million of investment are promised in AVE, that are practically empty, only a EUR 6.5 billion investment in Rodalies in Catalonia is promised for the next year.
More investment in Rodalies would allow to remove part of the private vehicle by ensuring a quality service for all users and participating in the sustainable mobility of the future
Apart from the managerial powers, the train is intended to be the means of transport for the future because of its speed and low environmental impact. We need to put our money where our mouth is: works such as the Mediterranean corridor should be key to international management of passengers and goods. More investment in Rodalies would allow to remove part of the private vehicle by ensuring a quality service for all users and participate in the sustainable mobility of the future.
The strike by the train drivers is yet another consequence, not a cause, of taking political decisions in economic and social fields such as rail transport. Decisions should be made on efficiency and efficiency criteria and not on political and electoral key.