Compañía Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles S.A. (CAF) was established in 1917 primarily as a manufacturer of freight wagons. However, the company’s beginnings date back to 1892, when the production of wagons started in Beasain in Basque Country and to 1897 with the manufacturing of tramways in Zaragoza, Aragón. Over the past century, the company has grown into one of the largest transportation sector players globally, offering its products on all continents.
“CAF stood the test of time and celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2017, meeting the challenge of business longevity while growing and diversifying internationally. We are now in a very promising period with exciting new projects and developments worldwide,” María Pérez, CAF’s Country Manager for Hungary tells Diplomacy&Trade. The company is a veritable global player. It is present on all continents and while it has some production units in the Americas, the bulk of its manufacturing activities takes places in Europe, with the latest addition being a state-of-the-art factory in the south of Wales and the enlargement of its production plant in Bagnères, France. CAF increased its global footprint last year with the acquisition of Solaris Bus & Coach, which is present in 700 cities in 32 countries, two of which are Debrecen and Budapest. As a result of this acquisition, CAF Group’s product portfolio includes hybrid and trolley buses as well as battery and hydrogen powered buses.
Cutting edge innovations
From the time of its foundation, the CAF Group has been known for its versatility, flexibility and capacity to adapt to the requirements of every customer. “This curiosity and openness for the specific needs of our partners differentiates us from the other big companies present in the railway sector. It has allowed us to develop our products and services based on market expectations, but it also obliges us to be up to date on all technological advances,” María Pérez says. Some of CAF’s market-shaping developments include the tramways without catenary, which have been in service since 2011, and the LeadMind platform, which allows customers to monitor vehicles in real time. The latter made its debut in Berlin last year at the Innotrans Worldwide Fair.
The world’s longest tram
CAF supplied 37 short and 12 long tramways to Budapest’s public transport company (BKK) between August 2015 and December 2016. The short time available for delivering such a high number of vehicles was an exciting challenge for all the parties involved, including BKK as the owner of the tramways, the Budapest Transport Authority (BKV) as the operator and later also the maintainer and CAF. “We cannot insist enough: the cooperation of all institutions in this project has been without a doubt one of the key factors of success for this first phase of the Budapest project and we are confident it will remain so for the second phase we have recently entered into,” according to María Pérez. Budapest boasts one the biggest fleets of CAF Urbos 3 tramways in commercial service, the world’s longest tram as well as one of the largest tramway and public transportation networks in Europe. For CAF, this project has become an example of successful collaboration despite remarkable cultural disparities. “Gaining our partner’s trust led to a second purchase of tramways and this speaks for itself. After the first 47 tramways, BKK has recently ordered 26 more; 21 short and 5 long trams. As the need for longer tramways is more pressing, we have started delivering those first. Right now, 3 of them are in Budapest under testing,” the country manager notes, adding that the delivery of all the trams will take place until the beginning of 2021. Similarly to the first project, CAF will collaborate with the partly state-owned Dunakeszi Járműjavító Kft. (DJJ) in the assembly and testing of the 20 short tramways.
Projects to be proud of
CAF has two other projects in Hungary that the company is proud of: Hungarian state railways MÁV's order of 76 cars in 1992 was CAF’s first project outside Spain; these cars have undergone remodeling in the last 3 years and are still used in commercial service throughout Europe. María Pérez says that whenever older generations of CAF employees meet, the memory of this project still brings a smile to their faces as it marked the beginning of a new internationalization era for CAF. The company’s more recent project in Hungary involved the delivery of 18 tramways to Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city. Although Debrecen's public transport company DKV operates and maintains the CAF Urbos 3 trams, CAF lends support to DKV in terms of know-how, specific materials and spare parts through RailLine Components, a CAF Group company. ”Winning in Debrecen through several complicated tender procedures was very fulfilling for our company as was the great outcome. Working with DKV and Debrecen’s Municipality was eye opening for the company’s knowledge of Hungary as a potential market and it could not have happened in a more welcoming city,” according to María Pérez, who moved to Budapest 5 years ago to represent CAF in the country. The local office of the company has always employed an international group of people, including colleagues and partners from several European countries. “I am proud to say that, over the years, CAF has understood its clients’ needs for support throughout the life cycle of its products and services. It has become a strategic baseline within the group to assure the availability of material and technical support for public transportation operators worldwide with CAF vehicles. As this is uncommon in the railway sector, I strongly believe that it is a differentiating factor when selecting CAF as a business partner.”
Confident about the future
CAF has long-term and diverse plans regarding the Hungarian market. It aims to collaborate with Hungarian institutions and partners in tramway projects, but also in developments involving other railway vehicles such as the future renovation of the fleet of the Budapest suburban rail line HÉV. “Regarding our ongoing collaborations, we work both with tramways and trolleybuses and look forward to adding more vehicles to our existing fleets. We feel confident about the knowledge acquired during these last years about the Hungarian market and local customer expectations and are willing to take on new challenges as they come,” the executive concludes.