Unnoticed by the world, the country that was dismissed by Jacques Delors on joining the European Common Market (the EU) as «just a country of bricklayers», has built the third longest high-speed train link in the world, and is soon to be the world leader by 2010.

This week the firsts trains make the trip between Madrid and Barcelona, 660 km, the longest in Europe. It is the third that has been finished in Spain in the past three months. At speeds of up to 300 km/h the bullet train speeds between Madrid and Barcelona in just 2 hours and 30 minutes, challenging the supremacy of the air link between both cities, the busiest air route in the world.
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AVE Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish High Speed) now spirit passengers from Madrid to Malaga, in the shores of the Mediterranean, in just two and a half hours, and from Madrid to Valladolid in 55 minutes -the latter route used to take three hours before.
Spain has the largest amount of high-speed rail under construction in the world, five times more than the next country, Japan.
In two years Spain will be world leader in high-speed trains.

AVE will be linked to France’s TGV network at Perpignan in 2012 making it possible to travel by high-speed from London’s Saint Pancras to the Costa del Sol.

By 2020 Spain will have in place 10,000 km of high-speed track and 90 % of the population will live less than 50km from an AVE station.

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The first train, a German S103, slid out of Atocha station, in the center of Madrid and just one block from the Museum of Modern Art Reina Sofía, on its two hours and 35 minutes trip. It is a sleek 200 meters aluminium tube. Passengers were served meals created by Jordi Cruz, a Michelin-starred chef. Sharp on time the train slid into Barcelona’s Sants station. The same trip by car takes at least six hours.

Fares are cheap, from €40 to €164. Passengers get a full refund if it is 30 minutes late, but in the experience of the other high-speed lines it just doesn’t happen: AVE has a punctuality rate of 98.5%.

Renfe plans to raise the top speed to 350km/h, perhaps as early as this year.

In comparison with Britain, the country that invented rail travel, the journey between London and Glasgow (shorter than Madrid – Barcelona) takes four hours and a half, and it is often late. The second class rate is almost 200 euros and the service on board is dismal.

In the USA, America’s fastest train the Acela Express, takes nearly seven hours to cover the 735 km trip from Boston to Washington DC.

AVE competes with the air route Madrid – Barcelona, which takes one hour and is the busiest air route in the world. If check-in and out times are added and travel to and from the airports included the journey takes more than three hours door to door for the busy executives. It is lost time, while on the train they can use their mobiles telephones and their computers.

Economic Success of Spain: it exports Trains to the USA.
Fast, powerful and well designed by TALGO, Spain exports trains and locomotives to America. It is a great success, more so if you reflect on the fact that when the first trains started in Spain, around 1835, everything including the drivers was foreign and imported. Even in 1870 Spain had the appearance but not the reality of a modern country, more alike to India or Turkey than a European country. Technicians of every kind that made the railroads run were foreign, mostly French. Even in 1920, 70% of the Spanish population was illiterate. That quickly changed for the better and the hard-working Spanish now export trains to the best countries in the world, while the country that invented the locomotive imports them from Germany and Japan.

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It is a technical and industrial success, and an economic success. First among EU countries, Spain grew at the pace of 3,8% last year -the envy of the Economist and the Barclay’s Telegraph shows in that they said that they believed the rate was more like 2.4%.

Spanish banks have weathered this economic storm with ease. Banco de Santander, the most important bank in Spain has set his eyes on being the most important bank in the West by the end of this year.

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PS. August, 2012.  We are ruined. These excesses have ruined Spain.  The high-speed trains were a good idea to link the capitals instead of flying, but they build lines and stations in small places where there are no passengers.  The Great Depression has had a surprising result: less cars and less car trips, yes, but the jobless obviously are not going anywhere so there is a collapse of transport all over the country.

Por Armando

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