High speed bullet trains are eclipsing airplanes as the preferred method of intercity travel in Spain. Traditionally, air travel was the way to traverse the long distances (typically 300 miles apart) between cities in the large country. Barcelona and Madrid are 410 miles apart, which previously helped create the busiest air travel route in the world. But in February of 2008 the new 220 mph train system linked up the two cities, and ridership has boomed. With a faster travel time, less delays and a lighter ecological footprint, more people are getting on board the train system.
Airlines carried 72 percent of the 4.8 million long-distance travelers who opted to go by rail or air in 2007. That fell to 60 percent last year, and Joseph Valls, a professor at the ESADE business school in Barcelona told The Guardian “The numbers will be equal in two years.”
Trains also have seen a boost from the unusually severe weather Spain has endured recently. Heavy snow forced the closing of Madrid’s Barajas Airport last weekend, stranding more than 45,000 people. Adding to the industry’s woes, Iberia airline has endured a labor dispute that’s canceled more than 500 flights and delayed 5,000 others. No wonder travelers are heading for the trains instead of the planes.
Beyond convenience, there is a strong environmental argument for the high-speed AVE trains, which are a more energy-efficient way to get around. Alberto Garcia of the Spanish Railways Foundation estimates AVE trains use 19 percent less energy than conventional trains and generate one-sixth the carbon emissions of a plane.