The port city of Vigo in Spain's Galicia region benefits from improvements to the Atlantic Axis rail network in April 2015 (photo © Photojope).
In many European countries the opening of even a modest new stretch of high-speed railway line is cause for great celebration. When the final section of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link opened in November 2007, there was a media frenzy over a modest stretch of new railway. It is actually less than 40 kilometres in length.
You can be sure that, when the 123-km Leipzig to Erfurt high-speed line opens in December this year, there will be acres of newsprint devoted to this little transport revolution in eastern Germany.
But in Spain they do things differently. High-speed lines are opened by stealth. The country has Europe’s most extensive high-speed rail network. In the worldwide league table of high-speed networks only China can trump Spain. It’s no surprise that Spanish train operator RENFE and the Spanish rail infrastructure company ADIF have been closely involved in the Haramain project to develop high-speed rail in Saudi Arabia.
Two years ago we reported on the opening of the 165-km high-speed link from Albacete to Alacant, where ADIF and RENFE gave just eight-days’ notice of the start of scheduled rail services on the new line.
We see another instance of a low-key opening this month. Media in the Galician region of north-west Spain reported yesterday that a new section of the Atlantic Axis high-speed network will open on Saturday, giving a boost to rail services to the port city of Vigo.
This new link is one of many new routes due to open in Spain this year — network additions which amount to over 500 km of new railway. The Spanish daily newspaper El País had an excellent overview of new segments of line which are likely to open in Spain in 2015. That was published on 2 January this year. It includes a useful table of how journey times between key Spanish cities will improve as these new stretches are commissioned during the coming months.
Other Spanish rail routes beyond the high-speed network are also benefiting from infrastructure improvements. A new timetable was introduced yesterday from Santander to Madrid — a route normally operated by Alvia trains.
Improvements to the railway running south from Santander to Palencia now allow for higher line speeds. The new schedule shaves 32 minutes off the previous journey time from Santander to Madrid for the main morning train on weekdays (a train which continues beyond Madrid to Alacant). The journey from Santander to the Spanish capital which previously took 4 hrs 47 mins now takes just 4 hrs 15 mins. In typical RENFE style, the improved service was introduced without fanfare. It was only announced only last week in the lowest of low-key press releases. It was another case of Spanish understatement.