From the BBC and the Times of London:
Spain's first high-speed rail link between Madrid and Barcelona became operational Wednesday, after years of delay.
Hitting speeds of 186 mph, the first AVE train took 2 hours, 35 minutes to cover the 342 miles to Madrid.
A total of 17 trains, each expected to carry some 200 people, will now be operating daily between the two cities. The train takes passengers right into the heart of Madrid.
The burgeoning high-speed system will be linked to the French TGV network at Perpignan in 2012, theoretically making it possible to travel by high-speed train from London to the Costa del Sol.
The high-speed line is the third to open in Spain in the past two months. AVE trains now transport passengers from Madrid to Málaga in 2 hours, 30 minutes, and from Madrid to Valladolid in 55 minutes. Until it opened in December, the latter route took nearly three hours.
Almost unnoticed by the outside world, Spain has engaged in a frenzy of high-speed rail building in recent years and is fast catching up with the world leaders, France and Japan. By 2010, the government claims, Spain will have the most extensive high-speed rail network in the world.
“We have the largest amount of high-speed rail under construction, with five times more than the next country, Japan,” said MarÍa Teresa Fernández de la Vega, the deputy prime minister. “In just two years’ time, we’ll have the largest number of kilometers in operation.”
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