On 23 December 2007, a high-speed train arrived for the first time at Malaga's main railway station, María Zambrano. The arrival of a Series 103 at about 12.30pm was a historic moment in Malaga province. The commercial service began the following day.
Tomorrow, Saturday, it will be ten years since that landmark event. That day brought an end to a decade of projects and works. Rather than bringing something to a close, though, this proved to be a new beginning in linking Malaga and the Costa del Sol to the rest of Spain and the world.
The service is marking its first major anniversary in fine form, with 20.5 million people having travelled between Madrid and Malaga during that time, and it has reached a new record this year with more than 2.44 million users. That is about 3.8 per cent more than last year, which was already very positive.
Over the past ten years more direct connections have been added, with cities such as Barcelona, Zaragoza and Valencia, and next year there will also be a service to Granada. The journey to Seville from Malaga is also expected to become much faster in 2020. Lines are being built to other destinations as well, so the AVE high-speed services will continue to expand in coming years. The whole rail network with its epicentre in Malaga has been used by 27.5 million people since 2007.
The AVE has brought Malaga and Madrid closer together with an optimum journey time of just over two and a half hours, especially impressive for the inhabitants of the Spanish capital, where any journey within the city can take around an hour. From a business perspective, it can be said that the Costa del Sol has already become a technology park and hub for investment which is accessible from Madrid, and from a tourism point of view, it has become one of three major destinations for those seeking sunshine and beaches, together with Valencia and Alicante.
The key to making all this possible is the Cordoba-Malaga High Speed Line (LAV), which cost 2.53 billion euros, of which 890.3 million were financed by the European FEDER regional development funds. The track, which is 154.5 kilometres in length, runs through 19 municipalities in Cordoba, Seville and Malaga. Since it opened, more than 75,000 trains have run between Madrid and the capital of the Costa del Sol, according to figures from the Ministry of Public Works and the Renfe railway company.
This infrastructure, which was highly complex technically, made it possible to reduce the journey time to Madrid by an hour and a half (on the Talgo 200 trains), with considerable improvements in comfort, reliability and twice as many seats.
It also meant that a rail network could be developed progressively so that today, in addition to those already mentioned, there are direct connections to places such as Tarragona, Lérida, Ciudad Real and Cuenca, and others can be reached via connections.
In January 2009, Renfe began to offer direct routes between Barcelona and Malaga, without stopping in Madrid, taking advantage of a rail 'bypass' which meant the trains could continue straight on to Aragón and Catalonia. This new route reduced the travelling time to Barcelona to five hours and 40 minutes. The high-speed rail services were completed in June 2013 with direct services to Valencia at weekends.
The options for rail travel will continue to grow in the medium term. Tests are already being carried out on the Granada line, which could become operative in 2018, and it will mean the city can be reached in just one hour from the Costa del Sol. Work is also being carried out on a new 1.9 kilometre bypass at Almodóvar del Río, which will mean the journey between Andalucía's two main cities will take an hour and 35 minutes.
Every day, 46 high-speed trains pull into Malaga's María Zambrano station. The arrival of the AVE ten years ago, then, was not an end; it was the beginning of a story which still has a great deal to tell.
Anniversary ticket sales
As part of the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of high-speed rail travel in Spain, Renfe is putting 50,000 tickets on sale for 25 euros on its website at midnight tonight (22 December). The tickets are for AVE and long distance services around Spain. On previous occasions however, the offer has sold out in less than an hour.