High-speed Rail: Spain, a power to spearhead the world


The High-Speed Spanish Rail Network (AVE) has established itself as one of the most important networks in the
world. The country occupies the first place in Europe and the second in the world by number of kilometres built and with regard to the quality of its infrastructure. A position that is the result of more than 25 years’ intense work and constant commitment to innovation.

In this way, the industry (which has contributed to its implementation) has developed a consolidated technical knowledge and pioneering advances in rolling stock, engineering, signage or telecommunications that is now being exported to projects of significant magnitude in other countries. Currently, ADIF AVE runs 3,152 kilometres of operational track. Of these, 2,514 kilometres are high speed, double electrified to 25 KV., standard gauge width (1,435 mm.); 567 kilometres correspond to the conventional network of pure Iberian gauge width (1,668 mm.) and 71 kilometres feature mixed network (combination of standard and Iberian gauge width). This state-of-the-art network has state-of-the-art security and control technology solutions implemented on the road and in its control centres. Alongside this, it has the most modern and best equipped train fleet in Europe, reaching travelling speeds of up to 350 kilometres per hour.

Since the first commercial trip was made on April 21 of the year 1992 between the cities of Madrid and Seville, the Spanish high speed has grown at an astounding pace up to the present time where it is now a symbol of international identity.

Major challenges overcome

For the implementation of this modern network, major challenges have had to be overcome, especially due to the complexity of the orography of the country. As a result of these challenges, large tunnels and viaducts have been designed and built, which have soon become amongst the most noteworthy throughout the world. Amongst them, the Guadarrama tunnel, 28.4 kilometres long, one of the longest in the world and the Pajares tunnel, 24.9 kilometres long, on the list of the largest in Europe.

Another of the characteristics that make Spain a world leader in high-speed technology are its advances in signage and signalling. Presently, it is the country with the highest degree of implementation of the European ERTMS Level 2 system (European Traffic Management System), which is the most modern available on the market. Around 2,000 kilometres of network have been equipped with this system; of which more than 1,000 kilometres are fitted with Level 2, which is also being implemented in the new lines now under construction. It should also be noted that one of the longest interoperable journeys in Europe takes place in Spain, between Barcelona and Malaga.

In this country, avant-garde advances have also been introduced, such as the DaVinci System, the most advanced tool for the control of rail traffic that has already been transplanted to other networks around the world, such as Colombia, Great Britain, Lithuania, Morocco or Saudi Arabia. Its great quality is that it is capable of integrating into a single application all the systems that comprise the elements of a regulation and control centre. Furthermore, it is adaptable to conventional networks.

New developments

To all of foregoing, the Spanish developments in the field of electrification are united, with the creation of the wholly Spanish ADIF overhead catenary system, called C-350 and powered at 2 × 25 KV CA.

Likewise, in new track superstructure new systems have been put in place to change the width; solutions that facilitate railway interoperability and that have already aroused interest in countries such as Russia, where they use a measurement different to the standard. For all of these reasons, the Spanish high-speed rail figures in the upper echelons of the world ranking worldwide in terms of extension, technology and know-how.  This experience is now exported in the implementation of networks of these characteristics in countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and the United States.


According to the plans foreseen by ADIF in the forthcoming years, the deployment of the high-speed network planned by the Ministry of Public Works will continue.  The purpose is “to consolidate railway routes connected to the European high-speed network that guarantee maximum performance, maximum reliability and operational safety, as well as the best travelling times between all regions”. Currently, there are several sections under different phases of construction.  ADIF points out that “the company’s investment efforts are ongoing and aimed at making the new infrastructures available to citizens in the shortest timeframe possible, always ensuring that the new lines meet the highest safety standards “.

Among the most flagship projects are those that are in a stage of works or that will begin shortly. Amongst these, the corridor Murcia-Almería, the Navarre corridor, the Basque Y or the branch of the line to Galicia between Pedralba and Taboadela (Ourense) and the one for Extremadura. ADIF Alta Velocidad has recently approved several tenders and adjudications for the Madrid-Extremadura high-speed line, for a combined value of more than 70 million euros.

The majority of them refer to supply contracts for the main elements of the railway superstructure, with special incidence on the Plasencia-Cáceres route and on the sections Ramal Sur de Cáceres and Navalmoral de la Mata-Casatejada.

Secondly, we have corridors with superstructure works, among which is the Pajares Variation, La Encina-Valencia, Valencia-Castellón (phase 2), and the Monforte-Murcia section with the exception of the works pertaining to the Murcia underground section. Furthermore, there are lines in which the works are already very advanced such as Venta de Baños- Burgos, and the Zamora-Pedralba de la Pradería section. And in the testing phase are those for Antequera-Granada, Chamartín-Atocha-Torrejón de Velasco and Vandellós-Tarragona.

In the forthcoming years, the deployment of the high-speed network will continue.