That's how the Guardian describes the dramatic success of Spanish high speed trains (h/t to lydik in the comments to the last post):
Spain's sleek new high-speed trains have stolen hundreds of thousands of passengers from airlines over the last year, slashing carbon emissions and marking a radical change in the way Spaniards travel.
Passenger numbers on fuel-guzzling domestic flights fell 20% in the year to November as commuters and tourists swapped cramped airline seats for the space and convenience of the train, according to figures released yesterday.
High-speed rail travel - boosted by the opening of a line that slashed the journey time from Madrid to Barcelona to 2 hours 35 minutes in February - grew 28% over the same period. About 400,000 travellers shunned airports and opted for the 220mph AVE trains.
Last year's drop in air travel, which was also helped by new high-speed lines from Madrid to Valladolid, Segovia and Malaga, marks the beginning of what experts say is a revolution in Spanish travel habits.
lydik is right, I have a huge soft spot for the AVE trains, which were my first HSR experience - and also because I love Iberia (my wife and I are going to Portugal later this spring). It's also because while many Americans have a stereotype that Europeans are all a bunch of train-riding sophisticates, in fact air and auto travel in Europe is still a major form of transportation.
That was particularly true of Spain - but no longer:
In a country where big cities are often more than 500km (300 miles) apart, air travel has ruled supreme for more than 10 years. A year ago aircraft carried 72% of the 4.8 million long-distance passengers who travelled by air or rail. The figure is now down to 60%.
"The numbers will be equal within two years," said Josep Valls, a professor at the ESADE business school in Barcelona.
This is worth noting since Spain and California are very comparable in terms of travel habits and population densities. As with Spain, California's big cities are often more than 300 miles apart (379 miles from downtown SF to downtown LA). Like California, Spain experienced a property-fueled economic boom during this decade. But unlike California, Spain has devoted a significant portion of the tax proceeds from that boom to building sustainable high speed rail, particularly under the PSOE government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Lines to Barcelona and Málaga have opened within the last year, along with a Madrid bypass enabling faster travel from Barcelona to destinations in Andalusia. Connections from Madrid to Valencia, Galicia, and the Basque Y are also under construction.
Spain has also had success at lowering carbon emissions via HSR:
The high-speed train network is also helping Spain control carbon emissions.Straight tracks and few stops mean AVE trains use 19% less energy than conventional trains. Alberto García, of the Spanish Railways Foundation, has calculated that a passenger on the Madrid-Barcelona line accounts for one-sixth of the carbon emissions of an aeroplane passenger.
All of this is something we can look forward to here in California - and further reason to ensure that the state gets its act together, passes a budget, and gets back to economic stimulus via infrastructure projects like HSR.
PS: On that note, the Obama Transition Team has a "Citizens Briefing Book" where users rate up projects and ideas they feel are most important. "Bullet Trains and Light Rail" are currently the #1 most popular idea. Login and be sure to vote for this to further communicate to the Obama Administration our conviction that HSR is a vital part of this nation's future.