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May. 6 2009 - 8:53 am | 33 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Spanish Rail Network On Track To Be World’s Largest

First AVE composition in regular service betwe...

Image via Wikipedia

Everyone is going high-speed:

To sell his vision of a high-speed train network to the American public, President Barack Obama this week cited Spain, a country most people don’t associate with futuristic bullet trains.

Yet the country is on track to bypass France and Japan to have the world’s biggest network of ultrafast trains by the end of next year, figures from the International Union of Railways and the Spanish government show.

The growth of the Alta Velocidad Española, or AVE, is having a profound effect on life in Spain, where many people have been fiercely attached to their home regions and reluctant to live or even travel elsewhere. Those centuries-old habits are starting to change as Spain stitches its regions together with a €100 billion ($130 billion) system of 218-mile-an-hour bullet trains.

via Spain’s Bullet Train Changes Nation — and Fast – WSJ.com.

While this system seems awesome and has gotten some great reviews, tickets aren’t cheap yet. For example, the lowest tickets (at least for this summer) between Barcelona and Madrid are around €109-110, (about $141), one way. (For a comparison of different modes of transportation for the same distance in Spain, check out this post I did a few weeks ago.) I am a huge supporter of pushing high-speed rail, not only because it is better for the environment and reduces dependence on oil, it’s also just less hassle than flying. However, it needs to be more affordable, or more people aren’t going to take it.

Also, while Spain might have only spent $130 on its rail system, it’s not a model we can exactly copy considering the country is about the size of Arizona and Utah combined. Our system will be exponentially more expensive, which is further justification that $8 billion plus $1 billion more per year is simply not enough.


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  1. collapse expand

    Thanks for sharing!

    I love the rail for trips less than 300 miles – and that’s with American trains that rarely get to top 100mph. If we had a rail system more than twice as fast, I’d use it all the time. It’s much more comfortable than flying (and safer too, if I remember passenger-deaths-per-mile statistics correctly).

  2. collapse expand

    I still think the growth of Spain’s rail network paints an optimistic future for America – if only our legislators will get on it and our interest groups won’t stand in the way. You’re correct in saying that it’s not going to unify the whole country in one shot – indeed, if you put projects out by square mileage of states, I’d say places in the Western US (Idaho, Wyoming, the ‘flyover’ states) will still be the last to get rail. Also, as much as I disagree with them, critics who point out that ticket costs will be excessive (http://venturebeat.com/2008/04/11/why-the-california-high-speed-rail-plan-is-fundamentally-flawed/) may be correct.

    Just the same, there’s a lot of room for growth and modernisation. Outside of the oft-cited example of the Northeast corridor, there are still plenty of people in the Midwest who rely on trains to get up to Chicago or down to St Louis, and the South has a very similar rural spread to Spain – so the markets are there. And the sprawl of cars in airport and company parking lots across the country points to the need. You are definitely right, though, in saying that we’re going to need a lot more than $8 bn to get this rolling.

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    About Me

    I'm a freelance journalist based in northern France, covering business, technology and travel. I've worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State, and had clips & photos published in the New York Daily News, MainStreet.com, and Irish America Magazine, among others. Before that, I obtained a B.A. in Mass Communications and History from the University of California, Berkeley and a M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University, where I served as art director for the student magazine, Plated. I also currently cover digital cameras and camcorders for ZDNet.

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