Spain has modernised its railway network, with a view to bringing fast reliable rail services within reach of most of the population.
Spain, behind Japan and France, has the world's third largest high-speed rail network and is about to experience yet another growth spurt, as Ron Smith describes.
The target is for 90% of the population to be within 50 km of a 10,000 km high-speed network by 2020. This should take the internal airlines' traffic away.
The formula is simple: provide services of high quality, sometimes at a good price, at an unbeatable pace. The outcomes obtained prove the efficacy of this. In the world league of countries with high speed (300kph or more) tracks, Spain is now number three. The savings in time are remarkable. For instance, it took two hours for a recent trip from Madrid to Segovia on the traditional route, on a Cercanias (commuter) train. It took 26 minutes to return on a high-speed train.
With the opening of the 350kph line via Tarragona, Lleida and Zaragozato Madrid in February 2008, Barcelona was added into the network. 52 trains a day (26 pairs) cover a path of 628 km in two hours, 38 minutes. This service has already drawn 48% of the market between the two cities, and it's still growing-just it's not worth the trouble of taking the aircraft. 98.54 percent on-time arrival is punctuality on Renfe high-speed trains, second only in the world to Japan with 99 percent.
By contrast, the carrier Iberia accounts for 77.8 percent and 64.7 percent for British Airways. Renfe is so sure in its timekeeping that passengers earn a 100% cash refund on the Madrid to Seville route if the train is five minutes late! A 50 percent refund for a 15 minute delay is provided on other high-speed trains, and a 100 percent refund for a train arriving 30 minutes or more late. In addition, the efficiency of on-board services is much greater than any other mode of transport.
Three levels exist: Tourist – second class, but with reclining seats, power sockets, headphones, and generous leg room
Preferente – first class, with complimentary newspapers, meals at your seat, hostess service and car parking
Club – premium first class, which includes a-la-carte and bar at seat service.
Renfe has invested EUR 3,150m in the most new high-speed train fleet in Europe. At 300kph-plus, the AVE (bird) S100, S102 and S103 sets operate, while at 200kph-plus, the Alvia and Avant S104, S120 and S130 sets operate.
The foreign services operated with gauge shifting wheel sets are also part of the high speed network. These include the SNCF-connected Trenhotel Talgo, Salvador Dali from Milan to Barcelona, Francisco de Goya from Madrid to Paris, Joan Miro from Barcelona to Paris and Pablo Casals from Zurich to Barcelona.
These trains use articulated Talgo short coaches, with independent wheels only at one end of the coach, and passive tilt. This ensures that the train is very small and has exceptional stability, offering the highest possible standards of comfort. "Changing the gauge is done at borders "on the move. Trains have cabins with spacious en-suite showers and toilets, big berths, and bar and dining facilities. The cabins have key card-operated safety doors. From Madrid to Lisbon, a similar service operates in combination with CP (Portuguese Railways). Two other night train services are the Catalan Talgo from Barcelona to Montpellier and the Lorcato Montpellier Mare Nostrum. To provide all the hotel fuel, these trains have their own generator vehicle in the package.
In Spain, the 'standard' gauge is 1,668mm. In most countries, including France, Germany and the UK, all new lines are being installed at 1,435 mm (4-feet 8.5 inches), which is the standard gauge. The gauge switching sheds shift with them as lines are extended. Work is currently well on its way to connecting Barcelona to the SNCF as Port Bou. This would offer a whole range of options, but the overnight trains are likely to continue as they represent a small niche market at the moment.
High-speed train tickets are available at a variety of prices, but prices are not dependent on such mysterious factors as they are in the UK. The price is there, and then there are discounts available. The ticket requires a compulsory seat reservation after it has been bought. After moving their luggage via x-ray machines, passengers pile up in a large lounge. Then, as passengers walk through the platform where the train is waiting, normally 10 minutes before departure, the gate is announced, and tickets are cross-checked.
In Madrid's central control building, the controllers can see in real-time where each train is positioned throughout Spain, along with great information on the performance of the network. A railway with such a strong vision and the drive to make it happen, plus a government that looks past the next election, is rare to see.
Although the infrastructure, freight, maintenance and suburban railways have been divided in compliance with the EU Legislation, Renfe is still a nationalized railway undertaking, but the railways have not been split in the same way as in the UK, so that a consistent national vision and decision can be made.
The Spanish high-speed rail network is remarkable now and could well be the best in the world by 2020. Spain is a big country, with high-speed links putting the capital within easy reach of all parts of the population in the center of the country. The network would shrink the nation as well as cohesively bind it together. High-speed rail is the solution to the transport needs of the future, with Spain leading the way on high-capacity electrified tracks.
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