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Spain’s high-speed rail is a runaway success

Spain may have been facing severe economic problems but over the last year its high-speed rail has been a runaway success. Over the last 25 years Spain has made huge efforts to develop a modern standard-gauge railway network, with the country going from no high-speed lines at all to Europe’s largest high-speed network within this period. Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) is operated by Renfe Operadora, the Spanish national railway company.

Spain’s high speed rail story started in the 1980s, when the then prime minister Felipe González commissioned a line between Madrid and his home city of Seville.  Spain is almost two and a half times the size of Britain, and is traversed by mountain ranges and wide rivers that make connecting the country’s biggest cities a challenge and mean that Spaniards mostly travelled between cities by coach or air.  The line, however, was a spectacular success, connecting remote Seville with Madrid in two and a half hours (and helped by the fact that the train were stylish and ran on time!).

As of June 2013, the Spanish AVE system is the longest HSR network in Europe with 3,100 km and the third largest network in the world, behind only Japan (2664km) and China (9356km).

In 2012, Renfe adopted a commercial policy more focused on yield management principles and has been rewarded with a 14% year-on-year increase in ridership. Since then, the number of passengers taking high-speed trains in Spain rose by 20 per cent in 2013, according to Ana Pastor, Spain’s Minister for Public Works. During the first six months of 2014, AVE ridership had risen by a further 12 per cent on the previous year.

Last month, the Spanish government announced that private companies would be given the opportunity to compete with state-owned rail operator Renfe’s  high-speed services between Madrid, Castile-La Mancha, Valencia and Murcia.

The high-speed train network also helps Spain control carbon emissions, with passengers on the Madrid-Barcelona line cutting their own emissions by 83% on the trip.