Since 1992, when the first high-speed link opened between Madrid and Seville in the south, Spain has invested heavily in the AVE network and the latest addition makes her the European leader in this high-tech transport. The special track connects major cities all over the country, from Malaga on the south coast to Barcelona in the north east, and, despite some doubts as to the economic wisdom of such a network for a country with relatively low population density, there are still more lines and links in the pipeline.
The latest addition to the network was opened with due fanfare on December 19th and links Madrid to Valencia. Set on the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian peninsula, Valencia is the birthplace of paella, the internationally recognised Spanish rice dish, and famous for las Fallas, the spectacular bonfire and firework festival held in March each year. Home to the City of Arts and Sciences, an entertainment complex set in the dry riverbed of the Turia – the river was diverted after the catastrophic flood of 1957 – and current home to the Formula One European Grand Prix, the city boasts a host of attractions for all ages and interests. And now it's only a brief train ride from the capital with even more entertainment and cultural options.
The 352 kilometre journey used to take nearly three and a half hours, but the high-speed link has reduced this to just 95 minutes. With a choice of 15 trains in each direction every day this makes it a very reasonable day trip. Four of the trains will take a little longer as they will stop en route, but even here the scheduled journey time is well under two hours. And Renfe are so sure of their ability to keep to the timetable that they will refund 50% of the ticket price for delays between 15 and 30 minutes and make a full 100% refund for longer delays.
The state-of-the-art trains that run on the new route offer 365 seats split between business and tourist class which means there are now nearly 11,000 seats available daily on the route. The standard fare is around 80€ one way, but significant discounts are available for advance booking and reservations made on line. The trains are fully wheelchair accessible and are at the cutting edge of rail technology, travelling at a maximum speed of 300 kilometres an hour.