SPAIN: High speed and other long-distance passenger services on the national network are to be opened up to competition during the first half of 2014, Development Minister Ana Pastor announced on December 3.

'It cannot be done overnight because it would be inefficient for the new entrant and for the public operator', she said, indicating that the process of granting operating licences would follow studies to determine future growth potential.

According to the Ministry of Development, opening up the passenger market up to competition should produce a wider range of services and 'more competitive fares', while at the same time increasing rail use and 'optimising' the level of public support for the railway. It would also enable state incumbent RENFE 'to operate efficiently in other markets'.

Pastor also announced the creation of a new railway safety agency, one of a number of measures that the government was taking following the major accident at Santiago de Compostela on July 24. RENFE is drafting new operating rules that would prohibit the use of mobile phones by train drivers except in an emergency, while a programme to fit all rolling stock with data recorders was also being developed.