In Spain’s fascist era, the train system was something of a joke. Its unique gauge made it incompatible with other European train tracks, and its operation was notoriously unreliable and outmoded.
Post-Franco Spain’s RENFE, however, is one of Europe’s finest train systems, and its pride is the AVE, which stands for “Alta Velocidad Espanola” (Spanish for high speed). The speedy trains can reach 300 kilometers per hour, but their service has so far been limited to only a few routes, starting with the Madrid/Seville corridor in 1992. The tracks have been reaching out slowly from Madrid in the direction of Barcelona, but so far the system can only get travelers as near to the city as Lleida.
Officials now promise that the much-delayed inauguration of what will be one of the world’s fastest long-distance trains (up to 350 km/hour) will link Barcelona with Madrid by March of this year. According to the International Union of Railways in Paris, the trip should initially take two hours and fifty minutes, making the train ride competitive with commuter flights.
The first scheduled trains will depart Atocha station in Madrid for Barcelona’s Sants station every hour, with a plan to increase frequency to every half hour. Once service is established, the journey will shrink to just under three hours.