SPANISH new entrant Ilsa says it will delay the start of its high-speed service to the second half of 2022 due to delays with delivery of ETR 400 trains, which are currently under construction by Hitachi Rail in Italy.

Speaking to IRJ in an exclusive interview which appears in the February 2021 edition of the magazine, Ilsa CEO, Mr Fabrizio Favara, says restrictions to the manufacturing process caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are the reason for the hold-up.

Trenitalia, which holds a 45% stake in Ilsa, confirmed a €798m order with Hitachi Rail and Bombardier Transportation to supply 23 ETR 1000 high-speed trains for Ilsa in August 2020. Shareholders of Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum hold the remaining 55% stake in the company.

No firm date for the start of operation has yet been confirmed. The delay pushes back the previous announced start date of March 1 2022, which was set from a provisional January 2022 start. Ilsa will operate Package B, accounting for 20% of all services or an hourly service, on the following corridors:

  • Madrid - Barcelona - French border (Corridor 1) 
  • Madrid - Valencia/Alicante (Corridor 2), and  
  • Madrid - Seville/Málaga (Corridor 3).  

“We are the only operator that will deploy a completely new fleet, but I am very sorry to say that Covid-19 has affected production of the trains,” Favara says. “The plant was closed during the first wave of the pandemic and during the second and third waves, social distancing rules are impacting production. 

“Covid-19 is a global situation; it is not just an issue impacting the railway sector or Ilsa. For the contract, it is clearly a situation of force majeure. There is no consequence and no issue in terms of contract rights. I hope with the vaccine, the situation will improve in the coming months.” 

On course

Hitachi confirmed to IRJ that it is on course to deliver the first train for the start of certification on the Spanish network in August as planned. Favara says two further trains are expected to arrive in September and more by the end of 2021. 

“Obviously we cannot start the service with one train,” Favara says. “At least to start between Madrid and Barcelona, we need nine or 10 trains, and then you will need more for Madrid - Levante (Corridor 2) and to Andalusia (Corridor 3). We have been talking with Adif since October to start the service in the second half of 2022.”

Ilsa is targeting the transport of 8 million passengers per year or 30% of the market. It will go head-to-head with incumbent Renfe, which secured Package A consisting of 60% of services, which it began operating under the 2021 timetable in December; and Rielsfera, a subsidiary of French National Railways (SNCF), which will operate 10% of services under the Ouigo brand.

Favara confirmed Ilsa’s plan to gradually ramp up its service offer and is likely to reach full operation “four or five months” after launch. “It also depends on how demand will return after Covid, and when is the right moment to start,” he says. “Demand can be quite different in the mobility sector, for example during Christmas, February or the spring.” 

For the complete interview, see the February issue of IRJ, p26.