Massive construction on Valencia’s bypass tunnel, an important part of the Mediterranean corridor, is just a drop in the ocean of investment in the entire Spanish AVE Network, which, according to the most pessimistic forecasts, should be completed by 2030.
If someone wanted to distinguish Spain from the other nearly 200 nations recognised by the UN, they couldn’t do so because of its language or religion (both of which are shared by many other countries), nor because of its history (which is constantly being revised), nor even because of its gastronomy (after the globalisation of paella). However, it may well define it as the state with the greatest devotion to high-speed rail in the world.
The Spanish AVE network has reached a length of 3,700 kilometres following the November opening of a section of the Madrid-Galicia line to Ourense. It is the world’s second largest, only surpassed by China, though neither country compares when size and population are considered.
Furthermore, the expansion of the Spanish AVE network is probably the only issue on which all political parties agree. All autonomies, regardless of who is in charge, demand that the AVE arrive in their territories as soon as possible. Even EH Bildu, which is critical of utility spending, is no longer willing to call for a boycott of the AVE’s arrival in the Basque Country.
The excessive use of fast trains and the Spanish railway model has begun to elicit criticism from some European Union institutions, who believe that the investment is not justified by the use of infrastructure and that these funds could be used to improve the conventional network with better local and regional connections, on which citizens’ daily mobility is much more dependent.
The current government of Pedro Sánchez, like previous governments, is working to bring the Spanish AVE network to each provincial capital.There are currently three completed corridors that connect Madrid to the French border, Andalusia, and Levante, with 14 high-speed lines in service: Madrid-Seville; Madrid-Toledo; Madrid-French border; Zaragoza-Huesca; Madrid-Valladolid; Cordoba-Malaga; Madrid-Palencia-León; Madrid-Ourense; Vigo-A Coruña; Ourense-Santiago; Madrid-Valencia / Alicante; Seville-Cádiz; Antequera-Granada, Variante de Vandellós and Monforte del Cid-Orihuela / Beniel.
In addition, the Mediterranean and Extremadura corridors, the Basque Y, and connections to Galicia, Asturias, and Santander are being built.
Although several heads of Central and regional administrations make statements about the expansion of the high-speed map on a regular basis, the time frame is very broad: the entire Spanish AVE network is expected to be completed between 2026 and 2030. The completion deadlines are not very precise, in part because the current Executive does not want to promise too much. Furthermore, the PSOE and PP governments have failed to meet any forecasts they have made since the construction of the Madrid-Seville line began in 1989.
The State intends to invest 2,591 million euros in the extension of the Spanish AVE network through Adif next year. According to sources from the Ministry of Transport, Mobility, and Urban Agenda (Mitma), the following sections of four high-speed lines will be put into service over the next year as a major milestone: the 89-kilometer-long connection Venta de Baos (Palencia)-Burgos; the Beniel-Murcia El Carmen station section (north vessel) of the Monforte del Cid-Murcia line; phase 1 of the Plasencia-Cáceres-Badajoz section of the line to Extremadura (164.6 kilometres); and the standard gauge tunnel between Madrid’s Chamartin and Puerta de Atocha (7.3 kilometers). The last one is crucial because, if implemented, it will connect not only these two stations in the capital, but also all of the high-speed corridors.
The following is the status of the remaining works, as well as their projected completion dates:
Spanish AVE Network Mediterranean Corridor:
The official estimate is that the entire corridor from Almeria to the French border will be completed by the end of 2025 or the beginning of 2026. At the moment, work is being done on the various sections, which are in various stages of completion. Among the ongoing projects, the recent contracts to implement the standard gauge, the high speed gauge, between Castellón and Vandellós stand out as the first gauge change on a conventional line. The construction of the route between Murcia and Almeria has also just begun.
Spanish AVE Network Extremadura Corridor:
This is the most overdue project, with over twenty delays since its inception, and there is even a citizen association demanding a worthy railway connection for the region, which has the oldest network in Spain (the last wooden sleepers were withdrawn this year), and it is not even electrified.
President Pedro Sánchez recently stated that the Plasencia-Badajoz section will be completed by the summer of 2022. The second section, which runs between Plasencia and the border between the provinces of Cáceres and Toledo (Talayuela on one side and Oropesa on the other), is in various stages of construction, including electrification, but it will not be operational until at least 2025. Regarding the third section, the Madrid-Oropesa, it is in the informational study phase, and the most optimistic projections call for a 2028 launch date, though the most realistic extend the deadline until at least 2030. When completed, travel time from Madrid to Badajoz will be reduced from five and a half hours to less than two hours.
The date for the extension of the AVE from Palencia to Santander has not been set. The previous Transport Minister, José Luis Balos, stated that the line would be completed in 2024, but the current cabinet, led by Raquel Sánchez, has not confirmed this. Cantabria’s president, Miguel Angel Revilla, has marked the start of construction on the Palencia-Amusco and Amusco-Osorno sections, while plans are being developed for three additional sections: (Palencia- North Palencia, Osorno-Calahorra de Boedo and Calahorra de Boedo-Alar del Rey).
The Basque ‘Y’: The high-speed train that will circulate in the Basque Country, dubbed the Basque ‘Y’ due to the shape of the 175-kilometer route connecting the three Basque capitals, was planned in 1989, but construction did not begin until October 2006. According to the most recent forecasts made this year by the Basque Minister of Transport, Iñaki Arriola, the project will not be completed until the end of 2026 or the beginning of 2027.
Connection to Asturias: The arrival of the AVE in Asturias requires the completion of a double tunnel between León and Asturias (Pajares variant), the works and subsequent infrastructure tests of which are expected to be completed by the end of 2022, though it is likely that it will not be completed until 2023.
The extension of the network to A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela has no official date after the inauguration of the Madrid-Ourense route on December 20. The respective mayors speak of the end of 2022, but the stations must be adapted, so travel to these two Galician capitals will be difficult until well into 2023.
Aside from the large corridors, a couple of other outstanding projects are put out on tender, such as the standard gauge connection to the Madrid-Barajas airport from the Chamartin station and the connection between the Madrid-Levante high-speed lines and Madrid-Barcelona. Once they are finished, the trains on the Barcelona line could be routed to the new passing platforms that will be built at the Atocha station, from which they will be able to continue to the Chamartin station and connect with the country’s northern network via the aforementioned new tunnel.
The Chamartin station expansion tender was awarded last week, and the second phase of the Atocha station expansion is expected to be put out to tender in 2022, while construction work on the Barcelona La Sagrera station continues.
Source: El Pais