The origins of this line date back to the 80s. On December 8, 1988, the Council of Ministers approved the project for the Madrid - Barcelona high-speed line, included in the Rail Transport Plan (PTF, as per its acronym in Spanish), approved a year earlier.The project did not include a line for speeds of 300 km/h but the doubling of track across the existing routes with new branches throughout.Finally, it was decided to build an independent UIC-gauge infrastructure with high-speed parameters.
Twenty years were needed to complete a route crossing especially complicated areas, such as the exit from Madrid, the Lleida-Martorell section and the entry into Barcelona.
The first sections were put out to tender in 1993 and work started in 1995.The 443-kilometre-long Madrid - Zaragoza - Lleida section, with an investment of 4.5 billion euros, came into service in October 2003 using Altaria and AVE Series 100 trains from the Madrid - Seville line.Initially, only speeds of 200 km/h were reached, while a new signalling system was being installed: ERTMS level 1, which would allow speed to be gradually increased.Thus, in 2006, with the new system being installed for the first time in Spain, AVE trains first reached maximum speeds of 250 km/h, then 280 km/h and finally 300 km/h in May 2007. This considerably reduced journey times.
The stations on this initial route, as well as the departure terminus in Madrid-Puerta de Atocha, were Guadalajara-Yebes (new), Calatayud (remodelled and extended), Zaragoza-Delicias (new) and Lleida-Pirineus (remodelled).
The first commercial service between Madrid and Barcelona ran in May 2006, with a variable-auge CAF Alvia train (Series 120) that used a gauge changer located in Puigvert, Lleida, to continue the direct journey to Barcelona on the conventional track.
In December 2006, after an investment of 1.613 billion euros, a further 108 kilometres on the Lleida - Camp de Tarragona section and the branch to Lleida were opened.The opening of this section was the first high-speed connection between these Catalan cities.
Fourteen months later, in February 2008, the Tarragona - Barcelona section, covering 98 kilometres and with an investment of 2.653 billion euros, was put into service, thus providing a high-speed connection between Spain's two biggest cities.
After a total investment of nearly 9 billion euros, the Madrid - Barcelona high-speed connection opened on February 20, 2008, with a two-way journey by Series 103 trains covering the distance in 2 hours 38 minutes.
The 131 kilometre Barcelona – Figueres section has involved investment of over 3.7 billion euros, not including funds assigned to works to adapt and build the stations of Barcelona Sants, Girona and Figueres Vilafant.
The full opening of this section took place on January 8, 2013, with a ceremony presided over by His Royal Higness the Prince of Asturias.
At first, more than half the length of the entire section (75 km) was used by freight trains running on two stretches, one between Mollet and Girona Mercancias and another in Figueres.Thus, the first journey of a UIC-gauge freight train on a high-speed line in Spain took place on December 21, 2010.The service was made possible thanks to a combination of international gauge infrastructures with conventional network infrastructures where a third rail track has been installed.
Two of the most noteworthy infrastructures built between Barcelona and Figueres are the urban tunnels in Barcelona and Girona. The TBM drilling of both tunnels was completed in July 2010.
Other noteowrthy infrastructures of the section are the La Sagrera station (under construction), the second urban tunnel of Montmeló and the Montcada i Reixac tunnel, also executed with a tunnel boring machine (TBM).
The Madrid - Barcelona line links with the international section at a new station: Figueres-Vilafant.This station was the transfer point for the new Barcelona - Paris railway connection from December 2010 until the direct high-speed connection between Barcelona and Paris went into service.
The end point of the corridor and rail link with the European high-speed networks is the international section Figueres - Perpignan, in service since December 2010. This section is suitable for both passenger and freight traffic.It was constructed by a French-Spanish consortium under concession, with an investment of 1.1 billion euros.The section is 44.4 kilometres long, 19.8 of which are in Spain and the remaining 24.6 in France.The Pyrenees border has been by-passed with the 8.2-kilometre long Perthus tunnel.