The brand conscious people at Spanish rail operator Renfe have names and identities for all their passenger operations, and for commuter and local trains the name is Cercanias (or, in Catalunya, Rodalies). If you’ve ridden the coast service from Malaga to Torremolinos and Fuengirola, or from Barcelona along the Costa Brava, then you’ve already sampled the brand.
And with that brand comes a basic level of comfort and service: it’s only a local service. So the only on-board human presence is the driver, and many stations have limited ticket office facilities, or in some cases just automatic machines. To offset concerns about safety and security, guards patrol the Cercanias network, generally in pairs, and occasionally with dogs.
However, the security guards cannot guarantee to be where the next ruckus kicks off. And the extent of their powers, short of summoning the real police, is unclear, although any physical presence is welcome, especially at night.
One area those guards clearly do not cover is what we in the UK call Revenue Protection, or, put more directly, eliminating fare evasion. Most stations on the Cercanias network are fenced off and allow access to their platforms via automatic barriers: you only get through with a valid ticket.
But some stations are not thus secured, and even when they are, the determined freeloader can get through. Gaps in lineside fencing, level crossings near stations, and nearby sidings all present opportunities, and when the security guards aren’t looking, folks will appear at platform ends, having evaded the barrier line.
Many of those freeloaders also know their destinations: one such in Barcelona is the recently restored Estació de França east of the city centre. But the draw is not to be near Ciutadella or Barceloneta, or a trip to the nearby Zoo, but the more prosaic reality: França, presumably because of some Spanish equivalent of listed status, doesn’t have a barrier line.
Because that is the only ticket check on the Cercanias network: you won’t see a conductor or inspector on these trains. Presumably someone at Renfe, or network owner Adif, has sat down and done the maths. It would be interesting to see the figures.