For several decades, the world's busiest air route was the "Puente Aereo" (air bridge) between Madrid and Barcelona. At a distance of about 400 miles on the ground, it's also a perfect distance for high speed rail. Ever since the AVE line was completed to Barcelona's Sants station early last year, high speed rail has been winning a greater and greater share of the Spanish travel market - despite Spain being hit extremely hard by the global recession, with unemployment of around 20%.
Now the AVE line has surpassed the Puente Aereo in terms of travelers. More people are taking the train rather than the plane between the two largest cities of Spain:
Spain’s bullet train is beating the plane in the race to win passengers. For the first time, more passengers have chosen to travel on the high-speed AVE rail link between Madrid and Barcelona than have opted to fly — a switch that could influence British ambitions for a high-speed rail network and add impetus to the creation of a second high-speed line in the UK.
Between July and September, 651,498 passengers made the 314-mile journey between Spain’s biggest cities (slightly farther than London to Newcastle), a rise of 21 per cent compared with the same period last year.
In comparison, 643,512 travellers made the journey by aircraft during the same period, a fall of 7.5 per cent compared with the third quarter of last year.
Madrid-Barcelona is the fifth busiest air route in the world, with four airlines offering 116 flights a day, according to the Official Airline Guide in July. Since the rail link opened last year, Renfe, the Spanish state rail operator, and the airlines, led by Iberia, the national flag carrier, have fought a fierce battle to win passengers. The high-speed train, which takes 2hr 40min to travel between Madrid and Barcelona, at 236.3 kilometres per hour (146.8mph), has won over commuters with competitive fares, greater comfort and the absence of elaborate airport security. It also offers promotions to attract tourists, as well as business travellers.
Once again, it is worth reminding readers that Spain offers a very good comparison to California in terms of not just high speed rail - but population density and geography. SF Transbay to LA Union Station is 432 miles, and our trains are projected to have a higher operating speed.
Ultimately, the Spanish experience suggests the SNCF report and the Brookings Institution are both correct in suggesting the LA-SF route, the nation's second busiest, will support a high HSR ridership. As our airports already burst at the seams during flush economic times and with rising oil prices, it's clear that we need the HSR option in California. Spain's success story will soon be replicated here.
Sort of fitting given Spain's role in California history...