XXV Anniversary of High-Speed Train in Spain: 1992-2017


The transformation which the high-speed train has produced in Spain’s rail system over the last 25 years is reflected in various figures. Over 35.2 million travellers used Renfe’s high-speed services in 2016, including the Ave, Avant and Alvia trains. 

The accumulated number of travellers who have used the high-speed network since 1992 stands at 357.5 million.

In Spain, high-speed is not just about the Ave: for example the Alvia trains use part of the high-speed rail lines and then later run on conventional tracks. The result of this has been substantial time savings and an improvement in millions of Spaniards’ journeys. In fact 65% of travellers (7.4 million) on Renfe’s long-distance trains which run on the conventional network partially use the high-speed lines. And this is possible thanks to one of the technological factors which distinguish the Spanish model: the introduction of trains with a system of variable gauge wheelsets and and gauge switches to be able to combine the conventional network (1.688 mm) with the high-speed network (1.435 mm). Then extend this model and its advantages to more provinces and cities: 27 provinces and 47 stations connected up which currently cover over 67% of the Spanish population.

These figures have allowed rail travel to exceed air travel in the Iberian peninsula’s transport market and completely change people’s perception.

So 25 years on from when the first high-speed service was offered, the train is the main collective mode of transport in Spain for long-distance journeys in the peninsula.

The value of time

The increase in the average commercial speed which the high-speed rail system allows is the key factor behind the transformation of the transport system in the Spanish península.

The figures reflect a before and after in the main connections where the high-speed train has broken into the market. Today the average speed on the high-speed network is 222 km/hour, higher than in both Japan and France.

Energy, carbon and externalities

The railway is one of the central elements for a low carbon economy and the impact of the high-speed services in Spain during this first 25 years is proof of that.

Renfe’s activity in high-speed services’ transport between 1992 and 2016, both in the case of long and medium-distance (346 million travellers), has meant a saving for society of 4.286 billion euros. This is measuring in economic terms the impact on climate change, contamination and the accident rate this transport would have implemented by other means.

Towards a zero emissions rail transport

Of the total volume of Renfe’s transport of goods and travellers, 89% is via electrified networks. As a result it is partially de-carbonised based on the current electric mix (53% without emissions and 33% renewable). The company implements an active sustainability and energy efficiency strategy which includes a new agreement with Adif. This will involve looking deeper into various areas of the rail system itself, improve consumption and energy savings’ practices or innovative projects to analyse traction via liquid natural gas or hydrogen-powered fuel cells as potential substitutes for fossil fuels.

CO2 emissions specifically from the railway have decreased by 63% in the case of travellers and 48% in the case of goods between 1975 and 2013.


The growth in demand for high-speed services is the result of substantial public investment in, and technological development of the distinguishing factors of the high-speed railway: average speed, security, comfort, reliability and punctuality. All these factors have combined to provide the train with a very high level of quality compared to 1991 and have transformed people’s perception of this mode of transport.

In 1991, the perceived quality rating was 5,7 out of 10 for long-distance services. In 2016, the perceived quality rating stood at 7,87 for high-speed services – long distance, 8,07 for the Ave services and 7,86 for the Avant services (medium-distance high speed).

Almost 32 million travellers used long-distance trains in Spain in 2016, a 102% rise from 1991.