Manuel Fraga, as president of the Xunta, and José María Aznar, as president of the central government, laid the first stone of the high-speed line between Galicia and Madrid in July 2001. A little more than 20 years later, after successive delays in the committed date, this Monday the AVE will complete the route between the capital of Spain and the Galician community. The inaugural trip will be for the authorities, among which will be King Felipe VI and the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez. The service starts normally the next day, Tuesday, December 21.
With the commissioning of the new trains, the travel time from Galicia to Madrid is reduced between 54 minutes and one hour and 28 minutes, depending on the origin. When Talgo’s 106 series trains, the Avrils, start to be used, which will be able to reach speeds of 330 kilometers per hour, the times will be shortened a little more. At the moment, these models are in tests and those that provide the Alvia service circulate on the tracks. From next week, going from Ourense to Madrid will take two hours and 15 minutes, almost an hour and a half less than what it took until now. From Santiago it takes an hour and five more minutes, which means making the trip in one hour less.
The trains arrive to Ourense by the international gauge high speed line. From there, the tracks are Iberian gauge, so only models that can adapt to both measures can make the route. They arrive at the limit to comply with the commitment of the current Government, which had given the date for the commissioning of the Galician AVE in December, and for Christmas trips, only three days before Christmas Eve.
Since the works were announced, the time horizon has been changing and the high-speed connection with the Plateau a constant topic on the agenda of the meetings of the presidents of the Xunta with the Ministers of Development. There are seven who have passed through that portfolio in these 20 years, from Francisco Álvarez Cascos to Raquel Sánchez, who was the one who announced in November, after a test trip, that the AVE would start operating before the end of 2021.
The first date given for the end of the works was 2010. The announcement was made by Aznar after a Council of Ministers held in A Coruña at the beginning of 2003, just two months after the sinking of the Prestige off the Galician coast and its catastrophic oil spill. The then President of the Government presented the so-called Galicia Plan, a list of aid and investments to compensate for that disaster, of which only a part has come forward. The deadline was delayed. First, the Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said it would be 2012, then the commitment became 2015, then 2018, later 2019. Finally, more than two decades of works have been necessary.
Before the connection with the Meseta, in 2011 a high-speed line was inaugurated in Galicia, the one that runs from Ourense to Santiago and A Coruña. The characteristics were extended four years later to Vigo.
The arrival of the train does not end the criticism of a complex infrastructure, in whose construction several workers died. Until February 2019, the Government had 12 deaths in accidents on the works, several of which were under criminal investigation. The connection does not solve some of Galicia’s internal connectivity problems. The train journey between A Coruña and Ferrol continues to take just over an hour, despite the fact that both cities are separated by just over 50 kilometers. Lugo is also still off the hook from high speed, waiting for some works that are underway and that in 2022 will cause the interruption of rail services with Ourense for several months.