After 19 years of construction, Spain inaugurates high-speed rail from Madrid to Asturias

Part of track, which runs through mountains, is one of the most complex pieces of engineering in Europe

Alyssa Mcmurtry  | 29.11.2023 - Update : 29.11.2023
After 19 years of construction, Spain inaugurates high-speed rail from Madrid to Asturias


Spain’s prime minister, king and other politicians inaugurated the new high-speed rail line connecting Madrid to the northern region of Asturias on Wednesday.

Construction on the rail line began in 2004 with the aim of being finished by 2010. However, the geological complexity of the area severely delayed the project and pushed the cost up to around €4 billion ($4.3 billion).

“Finally, the day has arrived. Not only is Asturias closer to Spain, Spain is closer to this region blessed with such unique beauty and geography,” said Pedro Sanchez upon his arrival to the Asturian capital, Oviedo.

The inaugural journey to Oviedo took 3 hours and 10 minutes compared to 4 hours and 24 minutes on the old train tracks. Once the government procures new trains this spring, the train will be able to reach 275 kph (75 mph), cutting the journey to 2 hours and 42 minutes.

“This marks a before and after. With it begins a decade full of transformations in our land,” said President of Asturias Adrian Barbon.

Sanchez thanked the around 5,000 professionals who worked on the project, which he said was one of the most complex engineering feats in Europe.

Asturias is a small mountainous region on Spain’s northern coast. Once an industrial and coal mining powerhouse, it went from one of the richest parts of Spain to one of the areas with the highest levels of unemployment.

Recent years have seen an exodus of young people. Today, the region has around 1 million residents today, a 13% decline from 1985. Although population levels are around the same as in the 1960s, there are around half the number of children now as there were then.

“I am so grateful that the government chose to invest in such an important project. Beyond the investment, it helps shatter the mindset that has marked us — the feeling of isolation,” said Barbon.

The government champions the rail connection as a major economic breakthrough.

As the region’s tourism sector is growing rapidly, it is set to increase the number of annual train passengers from 230,000 to 600,000, according to government estimates.

The government also said that it will improve trade because trains carrying merchandise will be able to double their loads and it will reduce the cost for companies by two-thirds.

A joint study between the government and the University of Oviedo estimates the train will add between €23 million and €40 million per year to the region’s economy.

Sanchez also applauded the train’s green credentials. “The environmental transition must be just in terms of the diverse territories and the people who live there,” he said.

The new high-speed rail replaces a winding stretch of rail that was first inaugurated in 1884, which was one of the most complex rail projects of its time as well. The most complicated 50 kilometers of the new track includes 12 tunnels, including one that is 25-kilometer long — the 7th longest tunnel in Europe, according to Infrastructure Minister Oscar Puentes.

Now at more than 4,000 kilometers, according to rail operator Adif, Spain has the second longest high-speed rail network in the world after China.

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