Bishop & Sewell

In Britain we’re all too familiar with stories about the train network being disrupted because of snow, strikes or ‘the wrong type of leaves’. But in Spain, they’ve gone a step further and ordered trains which are too big to fit into the tunnels, writes David Little, a partner in our Corporate and Commercial Law team.

It isn’t April Fool’s Day yet, this has actually happened and it’s cost Spain’s Secretary of State for Transport and the head of the state rail company, Renfe, their jobs, amid continuing public and political anger after it emerged that dozens of new trains ordered to modernise the rolling stock on narrow-gauge commuter trains and medium-distance trains in Asturias and Cantabria will be too big to fit through some of the tunnels.

The calamity would be hilarious were it not be for the fact the contract has cost the government £227.5 million (€258m).

The BBC reported, “Miguel Ángel Revilla, the regional president of Cantabria, describing the project as a “bodge” and called for urgent action, while Adrián Barbón, the president of neighbouring Asturias, said he was “baffled, angry and disappointed”.

“The firing last month of two senior officials – one at Renfe and the other at the state rail infrastructure company, Adif – proved insufficient to placate those angry over the poor planning and the consequent delay. On Monday, Isabel Pardo de Vera, Spain’s secretary of state for transport, tendered her resignation, as did Isaías Táboas, the president of Renfe.”

In the Guardian it was reported that the Spanish government says the mistake was spotted early enough to avoid financial loss but the region of Cantabria is demanding compensation, “Renfe ordered the trains in 2020 but the following year manufacturer CAF realised that the dimensions it had been given for the trains were inaccurate and stopped construction. The rail network in northern Spain was built in the 19th Century and has tunnels under the mountainous landscape that do not match standard modern tunnel dimensions.”

The mistake means the trains will now be delivered in 2026, two years late. But hopefully the right size?

Contact our Corporate & Commercial team

David Little is a Partner at Bishop & Sewell in our expert Corporate & Commercial team. If you would like to contact him, please quote Ref CB383 on either 020 7631 4141 or email

The above is accurate as at 22 February 2023. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times. The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Category: Blog, News | Date: 22nd Feb 2023

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