The Law on the Bases of Railway Management and Road Transport of January 24, 1941 established, among other issues, the creation of a new public company, the National Network of Spanish Railways (RENFE). This company assumed, through the rescue, as of February 1, 1941, the assets and operation of the broad-gauge railway lines, until that moment operated under a concession regime by private companies, although previously they had already been produced some partial nationalizations (Muñoz Rubio, 1995).
The new political regime born of the triumph in the Civil War of Franco’s troops, called in the law itself the National Movement, proposed a political and economic system akin to the fascist dictatorships that had developed in Europe from the 1920s, and whose main models and supporters were Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. Thus, in addition to the establishment of a single party and a leader, the intervention of strategic production factors was proposed, which should be governed by the autarkic principles of the new State. The most relevant industrial production was integrated into the recently created National Institute of Industry (INI), including some transport activities, such as Iberia, however, RENFE was not included in this structure and it functioned with its own legal personality, but with a strong direct control of the Presidency of the Government (in those years also exercised by Franco) and the main ministries, which had representatives on the company’s Board of Directors. In addition, other bodies were created that exercised strict control of the activity of the company, such as the Commissioner for Railway Material and the Government Delegation for the Regulation of Transport (Cuéllar and García-Raya, 2015).
As is logical, the history of the company evolved with the times, and the arrival of the Stabilization Plan of 1959, which gave an economic turn to Franco’s policy, would soon lead to the approval of a new statute for the company in 1964, which made the company a public law mercantile company. With the arrival of democracy, after the dictator’s death in 1975, the company began a slow modernization process seeking greater business efficiency without forgetting its vocation of public service. Finally, following the liberalizing proposals of the European Union, in 2005 it was subdivided into two companies, one in charge of infrastructure (Administrator of Railway Infrastructures, ADIF) and the other in charge of railway operations (RENFE Operator).
Thus, the relevance of RENFE in the Spanish political, economic, and social framework is evident, and its study is, to a large extent, the study of the most recent Spanish history. The political, economic, business, social and cultural history of our country could be followed through the business development of RENFE, its strategies, its leaders, the investments made, the evolution of traffic or the dynamics of labour relations between the company and its workers. However, this importance does not correspond to the existence of a good RENFE archive. The natural recipient of these funds, the Historical Railway Archive of the Spanish Railways Foundation, has only a small part of the great documentary legacy that a company of this history and trajectory is supposed to have. We have official minutes, reports and statistics, of which there has been a relevant historiography on the company and its context, but the conservation of administrative and management documentation is scarce, as if it happens, for example, in the aforementioned AHF, with the documentation of the old railway companies, whose studies are, therefore, broader, and more diverse (Muñoz Rubio, Sanz Fernandez and Vidal Olivares, 1999).
Thus, regarding the study of social housing for railway workers, which is the object of our research (Cuéllar and Martínez-Corral, 2018 and 2019) and (Martínez-Corral and Cuéllar, 2020), there is a rather limited RENFE documentary collection. Thus, in the AHF the few available documentary records are kept, such as the reports prepared within the General Directorate of the company, in the personnel or social action department, which oversaw in the issue of the housing of the employees. Here are some planning data and data exchange between company managers in the way in which the projects for the construction of the houses should be prepared in the ambitious plan of the 4,000 houses that the company launched in the 1940s. This documentation had to comply, according to the Ministry of Labour, then responsible for the management of the construction files of social housing, with a series of limits on dimensions, materials and prices that were not easy to comply with and that forced to hide real information of these works. This period of housing construction by companies for the regulated rent of their employees (normally 10% of salary) was followed by a stage of economic opening in which social housing fully entered the real estate market, which therefore entails both a high degree of speculation and responded to capitalist commercialization (Capel Sáez, 1990), although there was also a growing demand by some groups of workers, with a more stable purchasing power, as was the case of the railway workers, who sought to access their home ownership. This will lead to the creation of numerous employee cooperatives that required financing, direct or through endorsement, by RENFE, and access to land for construction at more affordable prices than those of a growing market. Here the documentary collections of the archive could provide relevant information on how these processes were carried out, however, the little documentary legacy received is incomplete, although it shows the interesting debate that took place within the company to free up railway land or deny it. Here a Committee for the Unification of Relations with the Ministry of Public Works appeared, which was quite restrictive in this respect, which generated quite a lot of criticism and complaints from the cooperatives that requested this assignment, by means of a payment agreed with the Ministry of Finance, and which was published in the Official State Gazette (for methodology and sources, (Cuéllar and Martínez-Corral, 2021)).
This cycle of construction activity, with RENFE as the main developer in the 1950s and the railway cooperatives in the 1960s and 1970s, can be considered to have ended in the 1980s, when the housing market had taken a notable turn, due to the restriction of available land, the increase in prices and the appearance of new financing formulas that progressively reduced the corporatist route that had been used until then. In addition, the legislation offered a progressive transfer of competences from the central to the regional administration, which culminated in RD 224/1989. These were also the years when the 40 years of construction of the RENFE developments began to come to an end and the settlement of the loans and advances from the National Housing Institute and the National Social Security Institute began, so that the RENFE company acquired full ownership of the dwellings, which would lead before the end of the century to an extensive disposal of the housing stock to its inhabitants, their heirs, or new buyers. In the construction files of the Archive of the Directorate of Architecture and Housing, these settlements appear, and we can certify when the ownership of RENFE took place, but we have not yet been able to consult internal company documentation on these processes.
CAPEL SÁEZ, H., 1990. Capitalismo y morfología urbana en España. Barcelona: Círculo de Lectores.
CUÉLLAR, D. y GARCÍA-RAYA, J., 2015. El transporte de productos agrarios por ferrocarril en España (1941-1959): un ensayo de gestión autárquica. Scripta Nova: Revista electrónica de geografía y ciencias sociales, no. 19.
CUÉLLAR, D. y MARTÍNEZ-CORRAL, A., 2018. Cada vez menos obrera, cada vez menos ferroviaria: vivienda y ferrocarril en España en torno a la segunda mitad del siglo XX. Congreso Internacional Pueblos Obreros y Ciudades Fábrica. Tarrasa, España: Museu Nacional de la Ciència i de la Tècnica de Catalunya.
CUÉLLAR, D. y MARTÍNEZ-CORRAL, A., 2019. Formas, lugares y espacios: la vivienda ferroviaria durante el franquismo (1939-1975). Gijón: INCUNA.
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MARTÍNEZ-CORRAL, A. y CUÉLLAR, D., 2020. Las soluciones constructivas en la vivienda durante el franquismo: el caso de la vivienda ferroviaria. Informes de la Construcción, Vol. 72, 558, e341, abril-junio 2020.
MUÑOZ RUBIO, M., 1995. RENFE, 1941-1991: medio siglo de ferrocarril público. Madrid: Ediciones Luna. MUÑOZ RUBIO, M., SANZ FERNANDEZ, J. y VIDAL OLIVARES, J., 1999. Siglo y medio del ferrocarril en España, 1848-1998: economía, industria y sociedad. Alicante; Madrid: Instituto de Cultura Juan Gil Albert: Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo: Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles.