Madrid and Barcelona united by AVE

21st February 2008, Comments 0 comments

High-speed rail link finally gets rolling after months of delays and transport chaos

21 February 2008

BARCELONA - Almost two months behind schedule, the first high-speed trains with paying passengers on board rolled out of Madrid's Atocha and Barcelona's Sants railway stations simultaneously at 6am on Wednesday. They arrived in their destination cities two hours and 38 minutes later, completing the 659-kilometre journey between Spain's two largest metropolises five minutes faster than scheduled, ending one of the government's biggest infrastructure headaches less than three weeks before the general election.

Originally due to have gone into commercial service on 21 December, the newest of Spain's high-speed AVE rail lines caused months of transport chaos in Barcelona and led opposition politicians to call for the Public Works Minister Magdalena Álvarez to resign. Only time will tell if the service will turn out to be worth the effort and be able to compete with low-cost plane journeys, buses and Spaniards' favourite form of transport, their own cars.

The 6am trains are the first of 34 that will travel in both directions every day of the week, of which 15 will be direct. The rest will make stops in Zaragoza, Lleida and Camp de Tarragona, increasing the travel time by around 45 minutes. The last departures are at 9pm.

With trains leaving Atocha and Sants every 30 to 60 minutes on average throughout the day, railway-company officials believe they can compete with airlines that until now have offered the fastest travel times. Compared to taking a plane, the AVE is relatively hassle free - no long check-in times or checked baggage - as well as being more environmentally friendly.

However, what ultimately guides most consumers is cost. AVE tickets start at EUR 40, but only on select journeys, at certain times and if they are bought on the internet at least 15 days before departure. Otherwise, the standard price for one-way and round trip tickets is EUR 120.40 or EUR  191.20, respectively, for the direct route, and EUR 102.10 and EUR 162.10 for trains that make stops.

In comparison, airline tickets can be found for as little as EUR 25 with Vueling and EUR 39 with Air Europa.

For most people, however, the simplest and most economical way to travel - though the least environmentally friendly and the second-slowest after taking the bus - is by car. Of the 18 million people who make the trip between Barcelona and Madrid each year, 10 million choose to drive. It remains to be seen whether the new AVE service will change all of that.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / AITOR ORDAX 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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