The challenges of the governance of large infrastructures

Andreu Ulied

General director MCRIT

The governance of large infrastructures – air, rail and port - is very complex. As stated in the DELTA Strategy, it is reasonable to think that a greater coordination between large infrastructures and an adequate regulation of transport markets would substantially improve the management of existing infrastructures, reducing the associated social and environmental impacts. To discuss this issue, Jordi Torrent, head of strategy at Port of Barcelona??; Sonia Corrochano, director of Josep Tarradellas Barcelona - El Prat Airport; and Pere Macias, coordinator of the Rodalies de Catalunya Plan were invited to participate in a round table organized by the Catalunya Europa Foundation, the Barcelona Metropolitan Strategic Plan (PEMB) and the Club of Rome.

In Europe there is the idea that infrastructures must be coordinated from the public administration, and at the same time, the public administration must regulate markets adequately - internalizing environmental and social costs - to favour competition among private operators and efficiency. However, there are notable differences between countries. In one side there is the United Kingdom, where almost all infrastructures were privatized, and public participation is responsible of regulating land use and markets. In the other side there is Spain, where the coordination of port, airport and rail infrastructure and services is quite centralized, with a large participation of State institutions such as Renfe, ADIF and Puertos del Estado, which do not have many equivalents in other European countries.

Catalan institutions and civil society have always been interested in participating in the strategic planning and management of these infrastructures, and it has been possible to do so, to a certain extent, from Territorial and Urban Plans, as well as from Strategic Plans. From the first Metropolitan Strategic Plan in the 1980s to the present, strategic planning constitutes the ideal platform for this type of debate and negotiation between different administrative levels, public and private companies, and social and economic agents. However, it is a complex process if we consider that each of the institutions involved in the planning and management of these large infrastructures has a different legal personality. In the case of the airport, AENA is one of the top 10 companies in the Ibex35 with 49% of private capital. In the case of the port, the Spanish Autoridades Portuarias are public bodies with legal personality and their own assets that are integrated into Puertos del Estado. And in the case of railways, Renfe is a public entity with different public companies (such as Renfe viajeros SA or Renfe mercancías SA), and ADIF is a public business entity of the State that manages railway infrastructures that are owned by the State.

Furthermore, Catalan society has the perception that the strategic debate has been on the table for many years and is not moving forward. There is also the perception that when a project is proposed, after years of discussions, the public debate becomes, paradoxically, poorly informed. This has been the case of the proposal presented by AENA on the expansion of the airport of Barcelona, a discussion in which the experts of the project have rarely explained it in public. There is a lack of trust between administrations, between administrations and companies, and even more with citizens. For this reason, before a project such as the expansion of the airport is built, many years of studies, periods of public information, and environmental declarations must take place.

The governance of large infrastructures of general interest

According to Sonia Corrochano, regarding planning and investments, the Spanish airport regulation is clear. In terms of planning, AENA’s airports use the DORA Program as a general framework, which establishes five-year investment forecasts. In terms of investments, the regulatory framework that enables them is established in the Master Plan of each airport, an open process in which all administrations and different stakeholders participate. The last Master Plan, in force since 1999, was possible thanks to a joint strategic agreement between the heads of the main administrations: the Mayor of Barcelona, ??the Mayor of Prat, the President of the Generalitat and the Minister of Public Works. This Plan establishes that the airport runways can reach 90 operations per hour. However, since 2002 with the Environmental Impact Statement this figure cannot be reached because to minimize the acoustic impact a limitation in the use of the runways has been introduced. AENA, as the airport manager, has the duty to report if the limit has been reached and propose a debate on proposals and alternatives, from a technical and business point of view. However, it has no competence to make political decisions.

Pere Macias agrees that, if there are no strategic agreements, the infrastructures cannot be carried out. For example, from 2000 to 2018, the central government chosed to favour the centrality of Madrid through high-speed train, connecting the provincial capital cities with Madrid in less than 3 hours by train. The consequence has been a reduction in investments in the conventional passenger and freight network.

The rail sector also has a relatively complex governance model, as do Germany and France. Cercanías operates on an infrastructure that is owned by the State, and that is administered by a public company that is ADIF. The Cercanías service is owned by the Generalitat, but it is entrusted to Renfe, which operates on the infrastructure of the Ministry that ADIF manages. However, the State undertook to transfer the Cercanías service to the Generalitat and to provide it with enough financing to be able to decide the most appropriate company to operate the service (RENFE, FGC, SCNF, etc.). According to Macias, that moment has not yet arrived, although we are in an extraordinary year in terms of the number of tenders and executions in the railway network.

For Jordi Torrent, the governance of ports does not escape the complexity already stated. The Port of Barcelona depends on two legal systems: the Spanish Ports Law and the Regulation the European Union of Port Services. A model like that of Italy, and far from the ones in Germany, Holland, Belgium or France. The Port of Barcelona has always defended more management capacity, especially in setting rates and responding to market demands. A governance model that suffers from bureaucratic barriers, and that sometimes could be solved by the public administration without changing the model.

Coordination between infrastructures in the metropolitan area of Barcelona

Air-rail coordination is important for all three infrastructures. One aspect that was discussed is the optimization and improvement of the airport runways and the role that the airport can play internationally. According to Torrent, intercontinental flights are very important not only for passengers, but also for logistics and air cargo. The expansion of the airport, therefore, is also important for the port. In this sense, there is a vocation for the Barcelona airport to grow and become intercontinental. Corrochano affirms that there is an inefficiency that cannot be technically improved because it involves the length of the runways that the planes need to take off. "If long-haul flights increase, we may not be able to take on so many arrivals because to increase long-haul flights, the long runway, the one used for the arrivals, must be used".

To overcome the limitation of the runways, it was proposed to replace short-distance flights by the train. But for Corrochano this is not enough because it would only mean a 6% reduction in air traffic, a very small margin to grow. In addition, most of the passengers that feed long-haul flights do not arrive by train but arrive by plane from different parts of Europe. Therefore, according to Corrochano, complementarity should be encouraged, but it is not the solution for the future growth of Barcelona airport. From a different perspective, Pere Macias emphasizes that this 6% could grow up to 20% if there were better air-rail coordination. But to encourage passengers to use the train instead of the plane, it is necessary to invest on the Mediterranean Corridor, remake the Ebro Axis, improve the connection and frequencies with France - currently there are only two trains a day - and promote night trains. To improve the connection with Paris, it would be necessary to fix two sections located in France. But it would also be necessary to increase competition since it would reduce prices and increase frequencies.

Corrochano also mentions the new Master Plans for Reus and Girona airports as a strategy for air-rail coordination. These two Master Plans to promote the growth of the airports of Reus and Girona and improve the connection with Barcelona are already being processed. In the short term, the construction of the high-speed station in Girona airport and the connection with Barcelona airport are already planned and will take place between 2022-2026. For what concerns Reus airport, a railway study of the area is being carried out to find the most appropriate solution. Point-to-point traffic could go at both airports, but in any case, could they be linked to long-haul flights.

Regarding port-rail coordination, Jordi Torrents assures that the Port of Barcelona, ??like others in the State, is a case of success when it comes to the transfer of goods from roads to trains. Today, most of the freight trains that go across Catalonia depart from the Port of Barcelona, ??reaching 10,000 rail circulations in 2021. However, he also claims that pending investments in port connection infrastructures are important.



The session on large metropolitan infrastructures of general interest has served to put on the table that the current governance model associated with each infrastructure is complex, which hinders the capacity of coordination and cooperation between them.

The public debate on grate infrastructures in the metropolitan area of Barcelona needs to be continued and needs to be rigorously informed by experts who really know the situation. In this context, it is necessary to thoroughly debate this complex normative and operational framework that regulates these infrastructures of general interest in Spain and analyse whether it would be appropriate for it to evolve towards the models of the central and northern European countries, more decentralized and opened to cooperation with local and regional public institutions and companies.