Spanish High Speed AVE Trains

Updated 2009-07-17 12:08

All Aboard the AVE by Rob Innis

Spain has already built high-speed rail links, known as the AVE - Alta Velocidad Espana, from Madrid to Malaga, Valladolid and the newest line to Barcelona, which opened in February 2008. The connection from Madrid to Alicante is currently under construction and should be operational in 2010.

The AVE project commenced in the 1990s with the intent to have a link from all major cities to Madrid in less than 4 hours and from Barcelona in less than 6.5 hours running on 7,000 kms of track all to be operational by 2010.

A second phase will add another 3,000 kms of track by 2020. This project is part of Spain's strategic transport plan (PEIT) that also encompasses road air and ports with rail accounting for nearly half of the total budget. It also has the objective to connect to Europe and so the AVE runs on standard gauge rail with compatible signalling systems to other European countries. The Spanish company Talgo, the French Alstom and German Siemens companies build the trains. The designs have evolved over the years and so they vary in speed, now up to 350 km/h, and physical appearance. The newest service, to Barcelona, has power units (the railway engine) which have been christened `patos´ Spanish for duck, given their front-end shape.

The Valencian AVE project has a budget of 12,365 million Euros, some of which will be contributed by the EU, and the train will run through, over and under via a series of viaducts and tunnels to minimise the impact on the countryside. All phases of the Alicante project are now under construction with many at advanced stages of completion. An interesting feature of the system is a `Falso tunel´ which is in effect a dummy tunnel designed to hide the system via a covered surface tunnel! The longest tunnel, at Buñol, is 7.2 kms that at 350 km/h will take you just over a minute to go through. The construction work, which is being carried out as sympathetically as possible with the environment, has unearthed some interesting finds along the way. Including 8,000 fossils dating back 80 million years in the Fuentes region and a roman villa for which the route was actually modified, at an additional cost of 4.7 million euros, to ensure preservation. Major stations will be integrated with entire shopping and leisure complexes that can be compared to modern airports and will provide ample parking facilities.

The project to construct the line branching off down through Elche and onto Murcia is currently experiencing problems with deciding upon the exact route and acquiring the land so it is still at the planning stage.

RENFE, Spain's national railway company, operate the AVE service using a track and signalling system managed by ADIF. The services already running have been very successful establishing a reputation for punctuality (a good track record!) backed up by a commitment to refund 50% of your ticket price if they arrive 15 - 30 minutes late and 100% if over 30 minutes late. Tickets are sold on a 3 tier system of Tourista, Preferente and Club with prices ranging from 124⬠to 224⬠on the Madrid ' Barcelona journey. Naturally the price you decide to pay affects the level of luxury that you travel in. The trains are equipped with video displays, selection of music channels, cafeterias, and facilities for the disabled.

This project promises to continue to provide a modern high-speed frequent service running on time with high capacity. Backed up by a high degree of passenger security and safety via modern signalling systems with no crossover points or level crossings with their inherent risks. This will undoubtedly be the envy of Europe and probably the world when it is fully implemented.

All this hi-tech travel made me think that the train spotters traditional garb of anorak and bobble hat will definitely need modernising to something thing far more appropriate ' also they will need good eyesight with the trains moving at up to 350 km/h!

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