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Spain: Transportation and Communications
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Services > Transportation and Communications

TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATIONS


Spain's road network covered 320,000 kilometers in 1986. Of the total, 2,000 kilometers were superhighways and 20,000 kilometers were main roads. Fewer than 2,000 kilometers of the network consisted of toll roads. In the 1980s, road transport was by far the most important method of moving people and goods. In 1983 roads accounted for 90 percent of all interurban passenger travel. Railroads accounted for 7 percent, and aviation, for 3 percent of the total. Internal freight traffic figures were similarly weighted toward road transport; the shares of mileage in this category were road, 73 percent; marine, 18 percent; railroad, 7 percent; and aviation, 2 percent. About 75 percent of the people entering or leaving Spain travelled by road, but nearly 90 percent of imported or exported goods were transported by sea.

By the late 1980s, Spain's road system was in need of upgrading. The local road network was so extensive, however, that improving it was fraught with difficulties. The network of major roads, accounting for 80 percent of the country's traffic, was gradually being upgraded under a sucession of long-term plans, none of which was very successful. The 1984-91 General Highways Plan, directed by the Ministry of Public Works and City Planning, envisioned the construction of 5,000 kilometers of highways.

Railroad construction began in the middle of the nineteenth century with the aid of foreign capital. In 1941 the many poorly run railroad companies were nationalized and then united through the creation of the Spanish National Railroad Network (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Espanoles -- RENFE). RENFE had its own statute. It was not operated by any of the state holding companies, but instead was supervised by a board nominated by the minister of transportation, tourism, and communications. After nationalization, the system continued to experience difficulties, losing much of its freight and passenger traffic to road transportation. An impediment to its use for international traffic was that the track gauge of most of the RENFE system differed from that of neighboring countries. Traffic in parts of the system was so light that in 1984 the government decided to reduce the system by 3,500 kilometers, and in 1985 it removed 1,000 kilometers from operation. As of the mid-1980s, the Spanish state railroad system totalled about 13,000 kilometers, half of which were electrified. A major thirteen-year renovation program was announced in 1986.

Spain made little use of inland shipping, but nearly 90 percent of all transport in and out of the country was accomplished by sea in the early 1980s. At the end of 1987, the Spanish merchant fleet consisted of 957 ships of at least 100 gross tons, and it had a total gross tonnage of 4.6 million tons. There were, however, an excessive number of companies engaged in shipping, some of them owning but a single vessel. In addition, many companies did not have the resources to upgrade their ships, and the fleet suffered from obsolescence. An indication of the troubles of the Spanish shipping industry was that the largest shipowner in the country, the Industrial Credit Bank, had to attach liens to many of its ships.

Spain had some 200 ports in the 1980s. The ten largest ports- -Cartagena, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Bilbao, Barcelona, Gijon, Aviles, Puerto de la Luz, Huelva, Valencia, and Sevilla -- accounted for 75 percent of all maritime traffic. Since the 1960s, there had been a good deal of investment in port facilities, and Spanish ports were able to handle all types of shipping.

In the mid-1980s, Spain had approximately forty airports that were open to civil aviation, about half of which could receive international flights. Two airlines dominated Spanish commercial aviation -- Iberia, Lineas Aereas de Espana (generally known simply as Iberia) and Aviacion y Comercio (AVIACO). In addition, there were four airlines that offered charter services. During the 1980s, air transport attracted an increasing share of the traffic previously carried by RENFE and by the country's shipping companies. Spain's size encouraged the use of aircraft for domestic travel, and Iberia and AVIACO had exclusive rights in this area. Demand was at times too heavy to be met adequately, and fares were so low that domestic operations were not particularly profitable. Iberia had experienced grave economic difficulties in its overseas operations in the late 1970s and early the 1980s, but business improved in the second half of the decade.

The National Telephone Company of Spain (Compania Telefonica Nacional de Espana -- CTNE), popularly known as La Telefonica, was established in 1924 as a subsidiary of the American-owned International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT). The company was granted exclusive monopoly rights for the installation of telephone service in 1945, when it was nationalized. CTNE's operations were supervised by DGPE, and as of 1984 the government had a 31.5 percent interest in the company. In an effort to modernize its telecommunications network, CTNE entered into technology agreements with a number of West European, Japanese, and United States companies, and it also obtained stock market listings in Frankfurt, London, Paris, Tokyo, and New York. In addition, CTNE planned to invest 260 billion pesetas -- a tremendous increase over earlier years -- with the aim of becoming a guiding force in Spanish high technology. An indication that there was room for the company to grow was that Spain had a mere 369 telephones per 1,000 inhabitants in 1985, a figure that lagged well behind most other EC countries.

The Postal Service, which included the national telegraph system, was operated by the Ministry of Transportation, Tourism, and Communications. Its headquarters was in the Palace of Communications in Madrid. One of the services offered by the Postal Service was a network of postal savings banks, which had been established in 1916.

Data as of December 1988




Last Updated: December 1988


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Spain was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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