Page 4 - Vía Libre Special - 25 Years of Spanish High Speed Rail
P. 4


             years of Spanish high speed rail

                                         Towards the end of the 20th century the Spanish railway system was in dire
                                         need of modernization. The economy was enjoying strong growth and Spain’s
                                         entry into Europe set the country on a path which promised a qualitative step
                                         forward for Spain in every aspect. At that time the railway network was old,
                                         with low speeds and little double-track operation. Many lines served areas
                                         with relatively low populations and there were bottlenecks at the entrances to
                                         major cities where long-distance, freight and suburban line trains competed
                                         for the insufficient train paths available.
                                               Of all the countries of our environment with similar characteristics,
                                         Spain had the lowest speeds, the fewest main lines with double track, the
                                         least dense network, and was in the worst state of repair. Add to this the fact
                                         that Spain’s different gauge made it difficult to link up with the rest of the
                                         Europe we had just joined, it was clear that a far-reaching modernization of
                                         the railway network was not merely advisable; it was a matter of survival. It
                                         was no longer enough to make piecemeal improvements to the network or
                                         the rolling stock.
                                                                      With regard to services, after many years of
                                                                 dominance the railway network had begun to lose
                                  The first                      traffic and was left out of development plans for

                                                                 the 1960s, which concentrated on roads and the
                                                                 automotive industry. Meanwhile, a large number
                                                                 of railway lines were axed (over one thousand two
                     25 years                                    1992) and steam trains were largely replaced by
                                                                 hundred kilometres were closed between 1970 and

                                                                 diesel trains, as neither the electrification of the
                                                                 network nor the conversion to alternating current
                of the AVE                                       (the system preferred by other countries) were
                                                                 given priority. On all major routes the journey time
                                                                 was at least 20% longer by train than by car, and it
                                                                 was impossible to compete with air travel. In 1987
                                                                 nearly half the long-distance rail journeys were
                                                                 made during the night, in old trains with average
                                                                 speeds in the order of 65 km/h. This resulted in
                                         some very low market shares and, what was worse, those shares were falling
                                         for both passenger and freight transport.
                                               Under these circumstances it seemed obvious that if the railway were
                                         to survive it needed to be revamped and brought in line with the new demands
                                         for mobility, modernization, and external openness.
                                               At that historic moment there appeared a new solution, high speed,
                                         which had the potential to address those needs. In France in the 1970s it had
                                         already been discovered that modernizing the existing network to handle 200
                                         km/h trains was not only extremely expensive but also insufficient to compete
                                         with air travel over distances of more than 450 kilometres.
                                               The  delay  in  modernizing  the  Spanish  railway  system  therefore
                                         turned into an opportunity. The latest high speed system could be deployed,
                                         making it possible for it to keep pace with Spain’s new phase of growth and
                                               It is often the case that when investment in infrastructure is delayed
                                         it allows more advanced technologies to be deployed when it is eventually
                                         renewed. This was precisely what happened 25 years ago, as opposed to what
                                         had happened after the Civil War when new railway lines were open (Madrid-
                                         Burgos, Cuenca-Valencia, Zamora-Ourense), operating at speeds typical

               4  Vía Libre • Special 25th Anniversary of the AVE Edition
   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9