Spain’s economy may be tatters, but its high-speed rail programme remains on track with the opening of the entire line between Madrid and the coastal city of Alicante on Monday.
The journey time has been cut by 50 minutes to two hours and 20 minutes.
The opening ceremony was attended by Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy with regular services starting on Tuesday.
Prince Felipe stressed the importance of infrastructure development to Spain’s economy. The country’s rail industry is involved in bids for building high-speed lines in Brazil and Oman.
Moises Jimenez, the head of the Alicante Business Confederation, said he hoped the opening of the new line would help the local economy: “The people of Alicante, and the entire area must continue to make it an attractive destination from the point of view of tourism, business and socio-economic development.”
The newly opened section extends the existing high-speed line from Madrid to Albacete on to Alicante – a total distance of 360 kilometres. The cost of the extension was 1.9 billion euros.
It has been estimated that the line will boost the GDP of the Alicante region by about 70 million euros per year and create 735 jobs.
With the country in recession, high-speed passenger numbers fell last year by 2.6 percent, but are up 14 percent since February after some fares were cut by 14 percent. .
However a third of Spain’s underused, loss-making and heavily subsidised medium-distance rail services have recently been scrapped and mostly replaced by buses.