Max and Antonio’s recent article on their experience of travelling around Europe by train prompted me to write this article describing how Spain is meeting the challenge of renewing its rail network with high-speed trains.
Spanish High-Speed Trains
In Spanish, a High-speed Train is an AVE (Alto Velocidad Española). AVE also means bird in Spanish and these birds can fly at up to 300 km/h (186 mph). They are operated by RENFE (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles), the equivalent of British Rail. The high-speed rail network enables connection to the French rail network and is managed by ADIF (Administrador de Infraestructuras Ferroviarias).
The first line was opened on 14 April 1992 between Madrid, Córdoba and Seville to coincide with the World’s Fair Expo92. Since that time, six other high- speed train companies have come into service, some of whom compete on the same routes with the AVE, currently offering very attractive rates. I recently paid €49 for two American music coaches to travel from Madrid to Barcelona. Discounted rates for families and groups are available. Airline type charges are now made by Ouigo and Avlo (a low cost HST company) for heavy baggage. Hot meals and wine are served in Comfort (1st class). When you are in Spain you can buy a RENFE Tarjeta Dorada (Golden Card) for €6 that gives 25% discount for one year to buy tickets online.
Ouigo España is a subsidiary of SNCF, the French rail company, and Iryo is jointly owned by the Italian rail company Trenitalia and Air Nostrum, a Spanish regional airline. One company (Alvia) has trains that can use the older, wider Iberian track gauge (1668 mm vs 1435 mm standard gauge), thus offering high-speed train travel over the whole Spanish network.
Examples of further lines opened in recent years are:
- Madrid to Valladolid via Segovia, December 2007: 112 miles with extension to León September 2015, 102 miles. Valladolid is the hub for north and north-west Spain.
- Madrid to Barcelona, February 2008. 386 miles in 2½ hours. A second station is being opened north of Barcelona with the line running through a tunnel close to Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia Cathedral (with elastic isolation of the rails to reduce vibration).
- Madrid to Valencia, December 2010. 243 miles in 1 hour 38 minutes.
- Madrid to Perpignan (France), December 2013. 110-mile extension from Barcelona. This was an important milestone for Spanish HST and further international connections are planned for Bilbao to Biarritz on the Atlantic coast of SW France and to Lisbon and the Algarve in Portugal.
- Madrid to Galicia December 2021. 345 miles, including extensions.
- Madrid from Atocha Station to Chamartin Station via a tunnel, July 2022.
- As of May 2023, the Spanish high-speed rail network is the longest in Europe with 3,966 km (2,464 miles) and is the second longest in the world after China.
The map below shows the progressive extension of the Spanish HST network to connect it to the rest of Europe via Perpignan in France. Completion of a short section from Perpignan to Montpelier will allow continuous travel between both HST networks.
Why is Britain struggling to build its first high-speed train network? Read the Guardian’s view here Spain’s high-speed trains aren’t just efficient, they have transformed people’s lives | María Ramírez | The Guardian Spanish High-speed Trains
If you want to try it for yourself you can find everything here about rail travel in Spain and book tickets here London to Spain by train | Times, fares, how to buy tickets (seat61.com)