Spain’s train chief quits after orders for too-wide trains – DW – 20/02/2023

The head of Spain’s state rail operator Renfe and the country’s foreign minister for transport resigned on Monday after an outcry over the procurement of trains that are too wide to fit through tunnels.

The dismissal of Isaias Taboas, who has led Renfe since June 2018, and Isabel Pardo brings the total number of people losing their jobs due to the scandal to four.

The dismissals were announced shortly before Transport Minister Raquel Sanchez met on Monday with the presidents of the northern regions of Asturias and Cantabria to explain how the errors in the measurements arose.

The error will lead to a delay in the production process of two years.

Asturias and Cantabria among affected regions

Earlier this month, an announcement was made that the production of 31 metric gauge trains worth €258 million ($275 million) awarded by Renfe to the company CAF in 2020 was going to be delayed due to a design problem.

The trains were to renew the fleet of commuter and medium-distance services in several regions, such as Asturias and Cantabria in the north of the country.

However, in March 2021 CAF realized that the dimensions it provided for the trains were not correct, causing construction to stop as the carriages would have been too wide for some tunnels.

The head of the regional government of Cantabria, Miguel Angel Revilla, had described it as a “monumentally wrong job” and called on those responsible to resign.

Both Spain’s central government and Renfe have said they noticed the error in good time and that no money was wasted.

Assembled in the 19th century, the railway network in northern Spain crosses a mountainous landscape and it has varying tunnel sizes that do not conform to standard modern measurements.

Since the spectacular Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997, the city has experienced a tourism boom. Located between mountains and the Atlantic Ocean in northern Spain, Bilbao offers art, Basque tradition and natural beauty.

Image: picture-alliance/Global Travel Images

A museum as a driving force

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao opened 25 years ago. The titanium, sandstone and glass building on the banks of the Nervion River, designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry, has become a landmark in the Basque capital. It soon became an attraction for more than just architecture and art lovers. To date, more than 20 million visitors have brought new wealth to a city that was previously in decline.

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Abando Indalecio Prieto, Bilbao’s central train station, welcomes travelers with a stunning stained glass window: 250 square meters (2,700 square feet) of scenes from Basque history. To the left of the picture is the bust of Indalecio Prieto, a prominent politician and socialist who had to flee into exile in Mexico in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War.

Image: picture-alliance/Axiom Photographic/Design Pics

Tubular glass tunnels lead to the subway, which connects the city center with its outer districts. The tunnels are called “fosteritos” (“little Fosters”), after Norman Foster, the British architect who designed the metro stations. The metro from San Mames station near the airport takes you into the city. To visit the Guggenheim Museum, it is best to get off at Moyua Station.

Image: picture-alliance/Axiom Photographic/Design Pics

A steel sculpture by Basque sculptor Jorge Oteiza has stood in the square in front of City Hall since 2002. Its Spanish name, “Variante Ovoide de la Desocupacion de la Esfera,” translates as “Oval-shaped variant of the sphere’s idleness.” Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003) is considered a pioneer in abstract art in Spain. He was also a philosopher who immersed himself in the Basque soul.

Image: picture-alliance/Axiom Photographic/Design Pics

Founded in the 13th century, Bilbao is a commercial hub on the River Nervion, which flows into the Bay of Biscay. It became an industrial town in the 19th century and was long seen as the ugly sister of the seaside resort of Donostia (San Sebastian). But Bilbao’s image has been transformed. Another sign of that is the city’s tallest building, Torre Iberdrola (in the middle of the picture).

Photo: picture-alliance/robertharding/T. Graham

The white bridge, “Zubizuri” in Basque, was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It was built in 1997 exclusively for pedestrians and is considered by many to be Bilbao’s most beautiful bridge. The glass surface had to be covered with a synthetic laminate to prevent it from becoming slippery in the rain. In the background stand twin towers designed by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki.

Image: picture alliance/DUMONT Bildarchiv

Like a polished black diamond

This building by Spanish architectural firm Coll-Barreu also reflects the city’s rapid transformation. The glass facade of the Basque Ministry of Health headquarters, which uses solar energy and absorbs noise, has been a popular photographic subject since its completion in 2004. It is located in the Ensanche area, Bilbao’s main shopping district.

Image: picture alliance/robertharding

Since 2006, the indie, pop and rock festival Bilbao BBK Live has developed into one of the biggest festivals in Europe. This year The Killers, Stromae and Pet Shop Boys were among the bands that appeared. Tens of thousands of people gathered to party and dance on Kobetamendi hill high above the city.

Image: picture alliance/dpa/J. Zorrilla

In the Basque Country, wearing a beret is a political act of identification with the region. It is said that a resident of Bilbao wears a hat at home but dons a Basque beret in Madrid. And, as a slight dig at its rival city of Donostia (San Sebastian), it is claimed that there, Basques only wear berets at home – and hats in Madrid.

Image: picture-alliance/Axiom Photographic/Design Pics

The “Big Week” in Bilbao is devoted to Basque traditions. For nine days, people dance, eat and drink in the streets and squares. Giant dolls, like the official icon Marijaia, appear. Next year, the festival starts on August 19 when the traditional rocket, the txupinazo, is launched in front of the Arriaga Theatre.

Image: picture alliance/dpa/M. Tone

Spain’s first national park

Picos de Europa (literally “Peaks of Europe”) National Park stretches inland from Bilbao. It was founded in 1918 as Spain’s first national park. Around 200 peaks higher than 2,000 meters (6,600 ft) offer impressive panoramas for hikers. The famous Way of St. James, which people from all over the world follow to Santiago de Compostela, passes through northern Spain here.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Thiem

The Atlantic coast about 30 kilometers (18 miles) northeast of Bilbao offers a study in contrasts. There are rocky cliffs and quiet bays; deeply cut fjords and extensive beaches. A spectacular stone path and more than 200 steps lead to the maritime chapel on the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Thiem

Once a hermitage, the islet is now a pilgrimage destination for sailors and fishermen. Legend has it that John the Baptist left his footprints at the end of the steps. Traditionally, visitors ring the chapel bell three times and make a wish. And as the location of Dragonstone Castle in the seventh season of Game of Thrones, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is now a must for fans of the series.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Thiem

From the beaches on the coast, line 1 of the Bilbao Metro (Areeta, Gobela, Bidezabal or Plentzia stations) will take you back to the city center in about half an hour. After that, it’s worth taking a stroll along the riverbank. At dusk, a play of light transforms structures such as the Guggenheim Museum and the White Bridge into spectacular sculptures.

Image: picture-alliance/Global Travel Images

jsi/ar (AFP, AP, EFE)

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