Madrid - Seville Line

The advent of high-speed trains in Spain

The Madrid - Seville High-Speed Line (AVE, as per its acronym in Spanish), inaugurated on 14 April 1992, was the first high-speed and international-gauge railway built in Spain.Its inauguration coincided with the World Expo in Seville.

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

The line’s history

Before this high-speed line was put into service, the old rail route between Spain’s central plateau and Andalusia run 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 70s, it was decided to study other alternatives for providing a higher-quality access to Andalusia. The first solution to be considered 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 a high investment and adverse effects on normal operation of the railway.

In light of the above, the Railway Transport Plan (PTF, as per its acronym in Spanish) was drawn up to include the construction of the New Rail Access to Andalusia (NAFA, as per its acronym in Spanish), approved by the Spanish 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 access to Andalusia began, going as far as the city of Córdoba.

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 on the design of the infrastructure that was being built at that time. 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 the opening of the line to coincide with the inauguration of the World Expo of 1992, that was to be held in Seville.


Despite changes in design and the impact of these on drafting the projects and on contracting, the construction of this line had to overcome the challenge of executing innovative works within what was a very tight implementation period compared to the time it took to carry out similar works in other parts of the world.

King Juan Carlos laid the first international-gauge sleeper in 1989. The Spanish government made ​​the first journey on a high-speed train (AVE, as per its acronym in Spanish) on 14 April 1992. The Expo’92 opened on 20 April and, finally, as planned, on 21 April 1992 the Spanish high-speed line (AVE) connecting Madrid to Seville went into commercial operation.

A historic milestone for the Spanish railway

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 terms of high technology. A significant historical event was taking place in Spain:the revival of the Spanish railway and the beginning of a new path to modernity and to 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 regarding the quality of service.

For the first time in Spanish history, the railway could compete with air travel, becoming the predominant mode of transport.

The Madrid - Seville high-speed line became a key indicator of the impact of high-speed rail on socioeconomic development and on territorial structure in the regions within its sphere of influence. This caused a ‘springboard’ effect, contributing to 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

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 took more than 7 hours to cover that route.

Six months later, a shuttle service between Madrid - Ciudad Real and Puertollano was opened.In 1993, the trains to Málaga, Cádiz and Huelva ran on the line.

In just one year, high-speed rial accounted for half of the market to travel 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 AVE’s trademarks was introduced:the punctuality commitment.If trains arrive more than 5 minutes late, passengers got a full refund for their tickets, as long as the delay was 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.Travel time between Madrid and Seville was reduced down to 2 hours and 20 minutes.

In 2004 Renfe launched a new product on the Córdoba - Seville section: the Avant, a train designed specifically 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, included 36 daily trains (18 in each direction). The demand in this section reflected customer satisfaction with the product.Before 1992, around 400,000 passengers travelled every year between Madrid and Seville.Today, nearly 3 million people choose high-speed rail (AVE) for this route.

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