The arrival of the high speed AVE train service in many of Spain’s major towns and cities has hit the airline industry hard. It could also impact on the nation’s carbon emissions as passenger numbers on fuel-guzzling domestic flights fell 20 per cent in the period to last November.
Now both commuters and tourists are letting the train take the strain opting to journey in modern spacious high-speed AVEs rather than have the hassle of cramped flights coupled with the journey to out of town airports.
Travel experts say that the AVE trains that can travel at up to 220 miles per hour have been the reason behind a 28 per cent growth in traffic in the same period that air travel numbers collapsed. Around 400,000 people shunned the airlines for RENFE, the national railway carrier.
Not only have train journey times between Madrid and Barcelona been slashed to 2 hours 35 minutes but the nation’s capital now has AVE links to Valladolid, Segovia and Malaga with many others including Cádiz under construction. In addition AVE links between Barcelona and Málaga plus Sevilla are also now operational.
In 2007 aircraft carried 72 per cent of the 4.8 million long-distance passengers who travelled by air or rail within Spain. That total has now dropped to 60 per cent and experts believe they will be at parity within two years.
Spain’s premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has put infrastructure projects at the heart of his anti-recession plans and will invest 108 billion euros in the high-speed rail network until 2020. In addition the government has promised to lay 10,000km of high-speed track by that year to ensure that 90 per cent of Spaniards live within 30 miles of a station.
Part of this expansion is raising concerns in Gibraltar over the future use of the airport which is undergoing a major expansion. The AVE system is already on track to come to Ronda and from there the service will be extended to Algeciras.
Both Iberia and the former GB Airways withdrew their flights between the Rock and Madrid on economic grounds. It had been hoped that one of the benefits of the Córdoba Accords between Spain, Britain and Gibraltar would be the starting of services between the Rock and Madrid, Barcelona and other key Spanish cities.
However, no such flights appear to be in the offing, and if the AVE comes to Algeciras then both business and tourist passengers might opt for the cheaper, easier high speed rail link.
Although British Airways, EasyJet and Monarch currently flying from Gibraltar to the UK they have no interest in a Madrid or other Spanish link. A lack of flights to Spain could endanger the very viability of the airport’s costly expansion plans.