Madrid - Seville Line

The advent of high-speed trains in Spain

Madrid - Seville High-Speed Line

The Madrid-Seville High-Speed Line, inaugurated on 14 April 1992, was the first high-speed and international gauge railway built in Spain. Its inauguration coincided with the Universal Exposition in Seville

On 21 April 1992, the first commercial journey between Madrid and Seville represented the result of the major technological commitment made years before with the construction of the first European gauge line in our country, with capacity, at that time, for trains to travel at more than 250 km/h.


The line’s history

Works on the Ciudad Real Viaduct

Prior to the commissioning of the high-speed line, the old rail route between Spain’s central plateau and Andalusia went through some very difficult terrain: Despeñaperros. With a single track and very tight curves (with a radius of between 300 and 600 m), it allowed top speeds of between 70 and 100 km/h. This route suffered from very high saturation levels.

Consequently, in the 1970s, the alternatives for providing a quality access began to be studied. The first solution looked at was to duplicate the existing track. This presented serious implementation problems due to the difficult topography and the fact that the works would interfere with the operation of rail traffic, since there was only a single track. These factors implied high investment and adverse effects on normal operation of the railway.

The King at the ceremonial laying of the first sleeper in Parla (1989)

In light of the above, the Railway Transport Plan (PTF) was drawn up to include construction of the NAFA (New Rail Access to Andalusia), approved by the Government on 11 October 1986. These works reduced the distance between Madrid and Seville by 100 km The design of the route ran along the Madrid-Badajoz line as far as Brazatortas, where the new line, accessing Andalusia as far as the city of Cordoba, began.

The commissioning of the Paris-Lyon High-Speed Line (410 km) in 1981, and its growing success in the following years, suggested the need for a change of approach to the design for construction of the infrastructure that was starting. Therefore, on 9 December 1987, the Council of Ministers decided that the new infrastructure should be built using high-speed parameters and with the gauge that predominated in other European countries, i.e. 1,435 mm. (the gauge of conventional Spanish lines is 1,668 mm.)

Thus, high-speed trains began to be developed in Spain, but with an added problem: the political intention for opening of the line to coincide with the inauguration of the Universal Exposition of 1992, to be held in Seville.

Despite changes in design and the impact of these on drafting the projects and on contracting, its construction had to overcome the challenge of executing innovative works within what was a very tight implementation period compared to times taken for similar works in other parts of the world,

King Juan Carlos laid the first international gauge sleeper in 1989, the Government made ​​the first journey on the High-Speed train on 14 April 1992, the Expo’92 opened on 20 April and, finally, as planned, on 21 April 1992 the Spanish High-Speed (AVE) line linking Madrid and Seville went into commercial operation.

Public figures during the inaugural journey of the AVE (14 April 1992)

An historic milestone for the Spanish railway

An AVE train travelling in the vicinity of Almodóvar del Rio (Cordoba)

Spanish engineers built the line in record time and, suddenly, a railway that had operated at 140/160 km/h was replaced by one running at 270/300 km/h, with the first Spanish high-speed trains, a fleet of 24 Series 100 trains built by Alstom.

For travellers, the Spanish railway took on a new dimension while, in Europe, Spain put itself at the same level as France, Germany and Italy in high technology. A significant historical event was taking place in Spain: revival of the Spanish railway and the beginning of a new path to modernity and increased competitiveness in Spain.

The design that was finally implemented solved a technical problem (low capacity of the old line), an economic problem (loss of passengers and freight) and, finally, a problem with the quality of service.

For the first time in our history, the railway was allowed to compete with air travel, becoming the leader with this mode of transport.

The Madrid-Seville High-Speed Line became a key indicator for demonstrating the impact of High-Speed trains on socioeconomic development and on territorial structure between the regions within its sphere of influence. This caused a ‘springboard’ effect favouring the development of the rest of Spain’s high-speed network, to the point where Spain has become a world leader in terms of its knowledge and experience of this mode of transport.   

Evolution of the railway service

Trains and passengers in Atocha

The service started off with twelve daily S-100 trains, six in each direction, taking less than three hours between Madrid and Seville, compared to previous trains that covered that route, which took more than 7 hours.

Six months later, the Shuttle service between Madrid - Ciudad Real and Puertollano was opened. In 1993, the trains to Malaga, Cadiz and Huelva ran on the line.

In just one year, the AVE train accounted for half the market for journeys between Seville and Madrid, and the number of passengers between both cities doubled. The AVE took over 85% of the market share compared to that of air travel.

In September 1994 one of the AVE’s trademarks was introduced: the punctuality commitment. If trains arrive more than 5 minutes late, passengers get a full refund for their tickets, only if the delay is not due to causes beyond the control of the railway. That same year, trains in commercial service reached 300 km/h for the first time. Journey time between Madrid and Seville were reduced down to 2 hours and 20 minutes.

In 2004 Renfe launched a new product on the Cordoba-Seville route: the Avant – a train designed specially to cover medium-distance routes at a maximum speed of 250 km/h.

In 2006, after 14 years of operation, the interior design of the S-100 fleet was renovated.

The commercial offer, in April 2012, includes 36 daily trains, 18 in each direction. The demand in this route reflects customer satisfaction with the product. Before 1992, around 400,000 passengers travelled every year between Madrid and Seville. Today, nearly 3 million people choose the AVE for this route.

The new infrastructure also notably and immediately improved the connections between other cities in Andalusia and the centre of the Peninsula. High speed and adjustable-axle trains reduced the best previous journey time by about 3 hours on the Cordoba, Malaga, Cadiz, Huelva and Algeciras routes. In December 2006, the AVE reached Antequera, and the following year it reached Malaga, with 11 daily trains in each direction and a record journey time: 2 hours and 35 minutes. In 2012, more than 70% of passengers who used public transport to or from the Costa del Sol travelled by train.