After over 18 years in ACCIONA, this civil engineer swapped the sweltering heat of Andalusia (southern Spain) for the freezing cold of Canada, and she continues to embark upon large construction projects with the same enthusiasm as her first day in this most exciting of markets.
What is your professional experience of
A total challenge. Canada, which was one of ACCIONA's first forays abroad, is a really interesting market due to its legal framework and is a country with considerable natural riches. This is the ideal setting for big and important engineering and infrastructure projects.
Do you think Spanish engineering is of the first division?
It's definitely a top-tier company - and we're among the leaders. We are spreading the excellence of Spanish engineering in general, and ACCIONA's know-how in particular, with pride across the world. Both are increasingly prized.
And Canada seems to be the right place to demonstrate this…
That's right. There are many projects to be undertaken here in which our technology and experience can be applied. Right now, we are constructing the Southeast Stoney Trail highway, one of the axes of the Calgary transport plan. It is to open at the end of 2013. And then there is the Windsor Essex Parkway in Ontario, 11 kilometers long, scheduled to open in 2014. We are also very alert to the opportunities that are emerging for the near future.
It can't be easy to build in such freezing temperatures
It's another aspect to the challenge. Neither is it easy at 40˚C. But in ACCIONA we are used to carrying out our projects with the maximum quality and effectiveness in more extreme, even adverse, conditions. This, and the years we have been here, means we already know how to work at these temperatures, which are recorded mainly in the east of the country. They are areas which have almost seven months of hard winter compared to Spain, with many days of below-zero temperatures from November to March. For sure, at such temperatures the costs can increase by up to 20% and productivity can fall by the same, but ACCIONA is working to overcome these difficulties little by little.
Is there a secret to adapting?
There's no secret. Engineering, which is the result of the practical application of a scientific base and of experience, enables us to consider that work in winter and extreme climatic conditions are none other than added variants in the day-today life of the constructor. It might seem easy to excavate in frozen ground, but to progress during many months of working in these conditions, we need much more powerful equipment. Taking into account the depth of freezing and the physical characteristics of the material we re-use, activities such as surfacing are out of the question. On the other hand, in non-extreme situations you can work with concrete by heating it to protect it against low temperatures. So, we are continuously working with our R&D team to improve different technologies.
Technical aspects aside, we have to take into account the human factor. Extreme cold reduces the performance of people and this is translated into increased cost compared to other regions where the climate is not so extreme.
ACCIONA was the first Spanish company to be awarded a PPP contract in Canada, with the Royal Jubilee Hospital. Is the public-private collaboration model the only solution for carrying out big public work projects in times of crisis?
Of course, it's a good alternative, since the financial sector ensures the profitability of the project and local authorities can allow themselves to improve their infrastructure networks without putting public accounts at risk, and companies get to continue carrying out their activities.
And does Spain continue to have any notable gaps in its infrastructure?
Rather the opposite. Spanish infrastructure has a high level of quality and we can be proud of it. Logically, 20 years ago, we were a country which was lacking in this respect, but now the situation has changed. Even so, we can't rest on our laurels: we must continue to work, without forgetting the present transport networks need to be maintained and opting, for example, to maximize rail freight transport, improve water infrastructure, and so on.
A lifetime in ACCIONA
Purificación Torreblanca García has worked for ACCIONA for 18 years. Born in Diezma, Granada, southern Spain, this civil engineer was named "Engineer of the Year" in Andalusia, Ceuta and Melilla by the Civil Engineers' Professional Association. Now president of ACCIONA Infrastructure in Canada, she was then the Regional Manager of ACCIONA Infrastructure in Andalusia, where she undertook some of the Group's best-known works in the southern Spanish region. She is convinced that the construction sector will be one of the mainstays in countries emerging from the crisis in the future. She enjoys being with her family and is keen on sports, especially skiing, while reading is another of her passions.