It's an increasingly rare vision in Spain: the Talgo train factory in Las Matas, outside Madrid, is actually expanding. Over the last few years, the rail company has secured several foreign contracts that are partly helping to weather the crisis. And those contracts were obtained in no small measure thanks to the 21 patents filed by José Luis López Gómez, a 72-year-old engineer who has spent 46 of his working years at Talgo.
One of his latest patents is an electronic mechanism to add stability to high-speed trains as they take bends. This invention earned López the Popular Prize at this year's European Inventor Award, granted by the European Patent Office.
López sits down at the factory cafeteria, which is empty at this time of the afternoon, and drinks from a bottle of water as he recounts the story of his life, which began in 1941 in Quintanilla Valdebodres, a hamlet of half-a-dozen houses under the jurisdiction of Burgos. At first, he seemed destined to be a cattle herder.
I saw that Talgo engine pull in, with those engines that I liked so much... I told myself that I had to work for this company¨
"But a teacher came along, she talked to me, and later she sent my father a letter telling him that I had to study," he recalls. "My father had very advanced ideas. He said that all we had to pay for our studies was a single cow. And he said that my sister was the one who should study, because we boys would find a way to make do in life."
So at the age of 16 he moved to Madrid, where he enrolled in ICAI, an engineering school ("in the free classes," he adds).
López remembers the first time he saw a Talgo train with his own eyes. "I was waiting at Atocha station for the mother of the woman who would later become my wife. And suddenly I saw that Talgo engine pull in, with those engines that I liked so much... And I was so impressed that when I walked out of the station, I told myself that I had to work for this company."
And so he did. And what he found at Talgo was a very creative atmosphere - one that he says was the legacy of the company founder, Alejandro Goicoechea.
Going abroad gives you a very broad vision¨
López, who spent several years in Germany, feels that the current emigration of young Spanish engineers in search of work should be viewed as an opportunity. "Going abroad gives you a very broad vision," he says. "The main thing is for them to return, and for that you need a playing field."
López also underscores the importance of the rail industry in Spain. "Just the high-speed rail contract to Mecca is worth the equivalent of 600,000 automobiles," he says, in reference to the seven-billion-euro deal secured by Spain to build a train between Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
"I'm no expert, but from what I've seen, countries that support rail transportation are socially more advanced than the rest," he says, adding that his greatest satisfaction is not in winning awards but in "seeing a design of ours in operation."