Photos: Mike Bent

SPAIN: National operator RENFE has completed the partial privatisation of the narrow gauge freight business in the north of the country which it inherited from the former FEVE.

In late April RENFE announced its decision to partially privatise the freight activities it had taken on in January 2013, and in July it was announced that the business would be rebranded as Constru-Rail.

Constru-Rail was founded in 2003 as a joint venture between RENFE (49%) and ACS Group (51%), which also owned main line freight operator Continental Rail.

According to RENFE’s regional director for Asturias, Mariano Santiso, the partial privatisation is intended to enhance freight services on the metre-gauge routes across northern Spain, while releasing RENFE to focus on local passenger services.

As a result of the deal, all the RENFE Mercancías staff will transfer across to the passenger operation, including 10 drivers. This is expected to help RENFE to address staff shortages which have caused passenger service reliability to decline on the former FEVE network in recent years.

Freight traffic on the metre gauge network peaked during the early years of the millennium, and at one point accounted for around 20% of all rail freight in Spain. Since then there has been a steady decline as historic traffic flows waned, notably coal (first domestic, later imported), sand and timber.

Since 1996 the mainstay has been the long distance movement of steel coils between mills in central Asturias and the Basque region. Some 1∙1 million tonnes of freight was carried in 2018, but this fell to just 854 554 tonnes in 2019, partly because of flood damage closing the Oviedo – Santander line near Arriondas for over two months.