One of modern Spain’s most significant achievements has been the development of the Alta Velocidad Española – the Spanish High Speed Train.
Started in 1992 to help promote traffic between Madrid and the Expo ’92 of Seville, the train service has gone from strength to strength, astounding many of its original critics along the route. The dedicated standard gauge track used by the RENFE-organised train service is still expanding, with new routes designed to come into service within the next few years. The fact that the trains have a standard gauge also means that it will be possible to achieve compatibility with the services of neighbouring European countries – making links with them even easier. Projects at varying stages at the moment are direct high speed links with France and Portugal and there are even tentative plans for a southern rail link from Algeciras to North Africa. We have many More Spain Vacation Information, Travel Review and Attractions Articles Now Available.
The long-awaited high speed link between Madrid, the Spanish capital, and Barcelona, the country’s second city, was opened in February, 2008 and immediately became a success. Leaving from Madrid’s Atocha train station and finishing its journey at Barcelona-Sants, the first and most obvious advantage is that a traveller can go direct from city centre to city centre – no more aggravation getting out in and out of airports.
For the service to be successful there had to be sufficient trains to cater for the demands of all the passengers and at present seventeen trains make the daily journey each way. The first train leaves Madrid at about 6 am – arriving in Barcelona at 8.43. The last train of the day from Madrid is the 9 pm – arriving at 11.38. The journey time on the non-stop Madrid to Barcelona train, therefore, is just 2 hours, 38 minutes: compare this to the previous journey time of in excess of six hours. The train travels at a maximum commercial operating speed of 300 km/h – 186 miles per hour.
Of course, not all the tains are non-stop – some have calls at Guadalajara, Calatayud, Zaragoza, Lleida and Tarragona – thus lengthening the journey time to just over three hours. Most people, however, won’t mind the extra time taken on the journey. The train is a much more comfortable way to cross Spain than in a cramped aircraft. The dining car snacks are tasty but if you are travelling either by Club Class or Preferent, rather than Turista, a meal is included in your ticket price. Additionally, there are more spacious seats – some with card tables, others which can be turned to face either direction – television screens and a much more convivial atmosphere. The plane might only take just over an hour but by the time you’ve factored in all the checking in time, getting through the arrivals’ lounge and the extra travel, there’s not going to be much difference. Prices are quite similar too – you can get a one way ticket on the train for as little as EUR47 if you book well in advance but, in most cases, a return ticket will cost between EUR157 and EUR192. And, thankfully, you won’t be in danger of being charged for excess baggage!
An added bonus that the airlines will never dare offer is that if your train is delayed by 15 minutes or more you will be entitled to a 50% refund of your ticket price. If it’s more than 30 minutes late, your journey becomes free of charge!
The upshot of all this, of course, is that air travel between Madrid and Barcelona – just two years ago the busiest route in the entire aviation world – has been significantly hit; an estimated 20% shortfall in passenger numbers. There are now nowhere near the 971 scheduled flights of 2007 – and Iberia are apparently planning to introduce a new smaller plane shuttle service that will leave each airport as soon as it is full and keep flying back and forth between the cities. The current economic downturn has meant that air travel has been hit worldwide anyway – and this new competition on such a busy route has had a significant impact.
Environmentalists have expressed their pleasure at the cutting of flights from Madrid to Barcelona – and travellers – businessmen and leisure travellers alike – seem equally as delighted.
It’s certainly given people the opportunity of trying out the fabulous AVE experience. We have many More Spain Vacation Information, Travel Review and Attractions Articles Now Available.