Sunday, August 26, 2012

The advantages of a high-speed rail – an example between Madrid and Barcelona

In 2008 a high-speed rail connection has been opened between Madrid and Barcelona shortening the time getting from one city to the other to 2 hours and 38 minutes. The main goals of the construction were the reduction in travel time on the corridor and the increase of capacity and safety conditions on the rail line (Frontier, 2011).
There are numerous changes that followed the launch of the HSR between Madrid and Barcelona. It shifts passengers from other transport modes, for example car, traditional rail and air (Dyjak et al., 2011). Constructing a new line between the two cities that are 600 km far from each other has a significant effect on air transport too (Rus, 2008). Previous to 2008 nearly 90 percent of the people travelling between Madrid and Barcelona went by air, but since the HSR has been built the number of passengers that go with train are increasing and even surpassing passengers going with planes. This trend is pointing towards a more environmentally friendly future as emissions per passenger on a high-speed train are approximately one-fourth of the emissions generated by flying by plane or driving a car. This is a great advantage as there is a growing public concern about environmental issues in Europe (Bachtler & Wren, 2005).
Lowering the emission of carbon dioxide is however not the main goal of most of the passengers who choose HSR to other means of transport. It is also more comfortable and convenient to travel with HSR. The train offers assigned reclining seats, computer outlets, movies, headsets, good food and gloved attendants to make people satisfied while travelling in these trains. Also, people can get to the station just 10 minutes before the departure unlike at airports, thus lowering the time spent on travelling. These are the main reasons why though it is not cheaper to travel by HSR than by plane between Madrid and Barcelona many choose this form of travelling (Rosenthal, 2010).
Also, polycentricism is a goal in Spain. As there is a low location index in Spain, with expanding the high-speed railway network the country tries to avoid concentration and centralization of the economic activity (Dyjak et al., 2011). The HSR line between Madrid and Barcelona has an impact on mobility, accessibility, socio-economic structure, urban image and spatial effects. These factors are considered to be significant but it is hard to quantify them in monetary terms (Frontier, 2011).
One of the most striking examples for the growing economic activity caused by HSR is the town of Ciudad Real located 120 miles from Madrid which has completely vanished because of the railway and the highway that bypassed the town. Now that an HSR station is located near the town and makes travel a lot less time-consuming, Ciudad Real has come alive as the HSR attracted a host of industries. Also, the University of Castilla-Lamancha has grown in size and importance too just because it is linked by the HSR (Catan, 2009).
Spain was always a top destination of tourists from all around the world. Now that more and more HSR lines are being built connecting cities all over the country it is easier not just for the workforce to be more flexible but also for the tourists to discover the cultural diversity of different Spanish regions (Raileurope, 2011). First, mostly business travelers were expected on the line between Barcelona and Madrid, but it is busy on the weekends too which means that Spanish people and tourists also use it to discover the cities. The government says that high-speed trains boost tourism which is the nation’s biggest industry and business travel. Also, constructing and maintaining a line make jobs for thousands of people. In the cities near the lines many companies that are involved in the different sectors of high-speed rail are investing in offices, plants and yards near the stations (Sheehan & Bee, 2012).
However, there are downsides too of the HSR line between Madrid and Barcelona. One of the problems is the corridor effect that shows the problem of the development of regions located between junctions of HSR lines. In these cases the infrastructure passes through the regions in between the stops without having much impact (Dyjak et al., 2011).
Moreover, the Spanish government wants to spend up to 77 billion dollars to expand and improve the lines while there is still an economic crisis.  When they built the Madrid-Barcelona line Spain it the economy was rising, but maybe now it would be wiser to cut the spending. Even if the number of passengers that choose HSR rises, the railroad system cannot cover its costs yet even between Madrid and Barcelona (Sheenan, 2012).
There are protests against the HSR too. A violent separatist group in the Basque country called Eta has launched an environmental campaign against the train. They even shot a local contractor in 2008 because he worked on the line (Tremlett, 2009). This shows that some people don’t want the country that is separated out somewhat to be intertwined (Catan, 2009), because they fear their independency and that they would assimilate to the rest of the country.

Nóra Szabó

Catan, T. (2009). Spain’s Bullet Train Changes Nation. The Wall Street Journal
Dyjak, R., Magda, I., Rosik, P., Zawistowski, J., Gapski, T., & Bienias, S. (2011). Evidence based Cohesion Policy and its role in achieving Europe 2020 objectives. In T. Gapski, S. Bienias, & E. Opalka (Eds.), . National Cohesion Strategy.
Raileurope. (2011). High Speed Rail News: Travel by High-Speed Train inSpain. High Speed Rail News.
Rosenthal, E. (2010). High-Speed Rail Gains Traction in Spain. The New York Times. Retrieved from 
Rus, G. D. (2008). The economic effects of High Speed Rail investment. OECD/ITF Joint Transport Research Centre Discussion.
Sheehan, T., & Bee, F. (2012). Economic impact of high-speed railvaries in Spain. San Francisco Chronicle.
Sheenan, T. (2012). Spain’s high-speed rail system offers lessons forCalifornia. The Orange County Register.


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