With a distance of over 621 km between Madrid and Barcelona and only 2 ½ hours travel time at speeds of up to 310 km/hr, the AVE is an unbeatable competitor of the avis plying the sky routes!
The Seville World Fair which was held in 1992 provided the impetus to inaugurate the first Spanish high-speed (“bullet”) train which zipped down the Madrid-Seville line to the wide-eyed excitement of the passengers flocking to the Expo. Since then the AVE (Alta Velocidad Española, literally, Spanish High Speed) has been giving the airlines a run for their money unremittingly. As a result, more than 80% of travellers between Madrid and Seville now use the AVE, with less than 20% travelling by air.
Once upon a time the Madrid-Barcelona route was the world’s busiest passenger air route with nearly 1,000 scheduled flights per week in both directions (2007). But by 2009 AVE has “stolen” 46% of the traffic. What with a distance of over 621 km between Madrid and Barcelona and only 2 ½ hours travel time (for the non-stop trains; 3 hours ten minutes for the trains that stop at all the stations; at speeds of up to 310 km/hr), the AVE is an unbeatable competitor!
The 3,100 km rail track the AVE trains operate on is the longest high-speed network in Europe. On a global basis it is second to China’s. However, in terms of kilometers of high-speed track per inhabitant Spain is absolutely peerless anywhere. Not even China comes close. The extensive network allows for fast connections between major Spanish cities: Alicante, Cadiz Córdoba, Malaga and Valencia, apart from Madrid, Barcelona and Seville.
All this has made Spain a world leader in high-speed trains. Not surprisingly, it has been awarded the multi-billion contract to build what the Spanish people call the “Pilgrim AVE” which will connect Medina with the Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
The AVE isn’t immune to rough spots, though. In 2012 it lost half a million passengers. And it’s still way below the record high of 23 million travellers it achieved in 2008. So now Renfe, the public railway company that operates the bullet train, is offering succulent perks to attract more passengers. And thanks to discount fares occupancy reached 14.9 million passengers in 2013, a 23% increase relative to 2012, raising the company’s revenues to €784 million, an increase of 6.9%.
Here are the perks to come soon and those that are already in place and will so remain:
• 11% discount on regular one-way fare
• 20% discount on round-trip fare
• Special offers known as “promos” with up to 70% discount
• 30% discount on youth fare (tarjeta joven)
• Up to 50% discount on 10-trip tickets.
The quiet coach: This will be available in June 2014. Use of mobile phones will be prohibited, the volume of the p.a. will be so low as to be barely audible, and the lights will be dim in the special coaches – all in consideration of passengers who don’t want to be disturbed either because they’re working or they want to rest.
Special luggage service: Starting this summer AVE passengers can have their luggage collected from a designated place (home, for example), for a fee.
Check out www.renfe.com for more details.
Peter Christener (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Pechristener)
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