Europe’s £8,100,000,000 high-speed train that puts the UK to shame

Trains in Spain don’t break the bank (Picture: Natalia de la Rubia/Getty)

A luxury high-speed train between two major European cities has put the UK’s creaking rail network to shame.

The £8.1billion line linking Barcelona and Madrid allows passengers to whizz the 385-mile distance in just two and a half hours.

The new leg, connecting the Catalonian capital with Madrid, launched in February 2008 after five years of construction on existing tracks, which are compatible with those in neighbouring France.

And it’s proven popular ever since, carrying 4.4million passengers in 2019 alone.

Locals and tourists alike can enjoy the views on board the train as it zooms at 174mph (280km/h) from Barcelona-Sants, then stops in Zaragoza before finishing at Madrid-Puerta de Atocha.

Where Barcelona, Madrid and Zaragoza are located (Picture: Metro)

Church of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Picture: Eloi_Omella/Getty)

Travelling by car, the same distance across Spain would take close to seven hours.

And don’t get us started on the cost – or time – of a similar journey across the UK…

UK trains compared

Spain boasts one of the longest high-speed networks in Europe and the second longest in the world, after China.

It spans 2,464 miles compared to the UK’s 67 miles of purpose-built tracks, with only a handful of these built for faster trains.

Trains on the East Coast Main Line, Great Western Main Line, Midland Main Line and parts of Cross Country Route and West Coast Main Line can reach maximum speeds of 125mph on the upgraded tracks.

This means the 400-mile train journey from London to Edinburgh takes around four and a half hours.

Euston station in London after a signal failure caused severe disruption in April (Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

Standard tickets on LNER from King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley start from £73 without a Railcard, even when booked weeks in advance.

The purpose-built 67-mile HS1 connecting London with the Channel Tunnel allows trains to travel at up to 186mph (300km/h).

What passengers in Britain are eagerly awaiting is the highly controversial HS2, a high-speed rail network due to be completed in 2033.

But the project been marred by delays and spiraling costs. And now, an entire leg to North West has been cancelled.

Former prime minister Rishi Sunak announced late last year that the high-speed train will run only from London to the West Midlands after the Manchester leg was shelved.

Even previous PMs David Cameron and Boris Johnson criticised the move, saying it signaled that the UK could not make long-term decisions.

The cancelled section of the HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester could be replaced by alternative connections, but it will be up to local leaders like the metro mayors.

Passengers can choose from three companies running services on the £8,100,000,000 railway line (Picture: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty)

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has been one of the scheme’s harshest critics. He claimed the government was treating people in the region as ‘second class citizens’ by axing the Manchester leg, according to the BBC.

Meanwhile, the cost of the remaining London to Birmingham stretch has ballooned to around £66billion, which is up to £10billion more than the 2019 estimate.

In recent years, UK train travel has been hit by industrial action and chronic delays, leading critics of the rail system to push for reform.

A cafe inside the Renfe train (Picture: Alberto Ortega/Europa Press/Getty)

Unions including the RMT have accused the government and rail companies of hampering jobs, pay and conditions.

Deputy prime minister Angela Rayner declared the UK’s railway system to be ‘crumbling’ in an interview with the BBC in 2022, while she was still deputy Labour leader.

Rail travel campaigners from the Campaign for Better Transport have called for an overhaul of the fares system, saying there are ‘absurd inconsistencies’ between tickets, the Evening Standard reports.

Now Labour has been voted into government, it has promised to overhaul the country’s trains by bringing the network under public ownership run by one operator called Great British Railways.

Spain: A perfect picture?

The situation is different in Spain, although it is far from perfect.

Critics there have cited the high costs of sprawling Alta Velocidad Espanola (AVE) high-speed network and its reported underuse, according to the industry outlet Railway Technology.

Trains in Spain have been praised for their comfort and affordability (Picture: Markus Mainka/Getty Images)

Spain has spent more than €40billion on its high-speed service, a Spanish think thank FEDEA estimates.

To get to the capital Madrid from Barcelona, passengers can take their pick between national rail operator Renfe and private companies Ouigo Espana and Iryo, which all operate services on the line.

But what about tickets?

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Train from Barcelona to Madrid with IRYO (Infinita Class) trainspain, spainscenery, spanishtrains, spainrail, spaintour, spaintrip, spaintrainride, spanishrailways, spainsights, #spainrailway #iryo

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Spain’s vast high-speed train network connects to French cities such as Perpignan, Avignon and Lyon (Picture: Renfe)

The good news is that rail travel in Spain is cheap, at least compared to rocketing costs in the UK that have left many disillusioned.

Tickets on the Barcelona-Madrid high-speed train start from around €30 (£25), though prices vary depending on the operator and optional perks.

You can splash out on a first-class ticket with a bistro meal and an extra-large seat with Iryo from around €51.

This article was first published on June 12, 2024

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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