INTRO: Gestor de Infraestructuras Ferroviarias has been established this year by the Spanish government to build and manage high-speed routes. GIF President Albert Vilalta explained the role of his organisation and its involvement in the Madrid - Barcelona - French border project to Robert Preston

GIF’s primary role today is the construction of high-speed infrastructure, taking routes as defined and planned by the Ministry of Development through to the tender stage and then supervising work. At present the organisation’s sole project is the route from Madrid to Barcelona and then to the French border, which Albert Vilalta plans to have open as far as Lleida in 2002 and to the border in 2004.

Vilalta expects to award all outstanding civil engineering contracts between Madrid and Lleida this year (box p253), with work completed around 2000 so that tracklaying can begin. Final design of the continuation from Lleida to the French border is ’well advanced’, with tenders for civil works likely to be called in 1999.

Once this line is completed, GIF will be responsible for its management, allocating paths and charging those operators who wish to use it in line with current Spanish and European law. Although Vilalta expects that Spanish National Railways will be the preferred operator, the door will certainly be open to other interested parties.

As GIF intends to remain a small and compact organisation, maintenance of the high-speed route is likely go out to tender. Vilalta points out that this will be something of a landmark, with GIF able to start its management role with a clean slate. The new 1435mm gauge Madrid - Barcelona - French border route will be a distinct entity, separate from Spain’s integrated national network, and as a new line will not present GIF with the maintenance and labour issues that face other organisations assuming responsibility for older, national networks.

The Spanish model

At present, management and maintenance of the 1668mm gauge integrated national network is entrusted to Renfe by its owner, the Spanish government. Maintenance of the Madrid - Sevilla high-speed route, which does not form part of this network, is Renfe’s responsibility but is put out to tender.

Although there is no legal impediment to GIF assuming responsibility for existing routes, Vilalta thinks that it is unlikely in the immediate future that the organisation will follow the lead of Banverket in Sweden, and much less that of the privatised Railtrack in Great Britain. On the existing network, the present accounting separation of infrastructure and operations appears likely to continue in its present form for some time.

As regards future high-speed construction, the government remains responsible for the selection and planning of projects, which would then be handed to GIF for execution and management. It is therefore the Ministry of Development that is currently wrestling with the Madrid - Valladolid project, whose 110 km alignment was published for consultation on December 24. Alternatives proposed by communities en route have included a more direct 67 km route through the Guadarrama mountains that would increase the length in tunnel from 29·7 km to 34·4 km.

Funding construction

Central government provides the main source of funding for high-speed line construction, providing GIF with capital generated mainly by the privatisation of state-owned enterprises. GIF’s capital stood at Pts91bn at the start of 1998, and Vilalta expects this to rise to Pts250bn by 2000.

The European Union Cohesion Fund is also an important source of finance for the Spanish high-speed programme, expected to provide a total of Pts180bn before it is wound up in 2000. Vilalta very much hopes that a replacement framework to fund infrastructure projects will soon be devised, especially to tackle missing links and bottlenecks across Europe.

Once GIF is charging operators to use its infrastructure, receipts from access payments could provide the guarantee for loans or other forms of external finance to build subsequent projects. At present, government and EU funding is sufficient to fund phased construction work, and GIF is ’not in a hurry’ to seek external finance.

Vilalta is anxious to approach the markets and other interested parties only when thorough studies of future operating scenarios have been completed, and he does not expect this much before the end of 1998. In their initial stages these studies have identified a possible 4·2billion passenger-km a year between Madrid and Barcelona.

Vilalta hopes to keep GIF’s administrative overheads low, and to set access charges at a level that will both encourage traffic and provide a revenue stream to bring forward projects such as the proposed Córdoba - M