A high-speed experience - Alta Velocidad Española (AVE)
Madrid Travel Blog› entry 108 of 113 › view all entries
During my visit in Spain I had to take the high-speed train from Madrid to Zaragoza and back. The service is named Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) and is operated by Renfe Operadora, which is the Spanish national railway company, at speeds of up to 310 km/h. Alta Velocidad Española translates to "Spanish High Speed", but the initials are also a play on the word ave, meaning "bird". As of June 2013, the Spanish AVE system is the longest HSR network in Europe with 3,100 km and the second in the world, after China.
I found the service very precise and easy to use and less expensive than I had expected. The tickets can be bought on the Internet, by an app or in the ticket office.
I am not a train person but I had to take the train back and forth from Madrid and Zaragoza. The train left from the Estación de Atocha - Madrid Atocha Train Station. I had never been there before but I was amazed with what I found. Atocha is the focal point for intercity trains from all over Spain, as well as the country's main station for the high-speed AVE trains.
The Madrid Atocha Train Station is Madrid's largest and first train station, and it was inaugurated in 1851. At that time it was named Estación de Mediodía, which is now an area within the district of Arganzuela, just south of Parque del Retiro. Today the railway station is simply called, Estación de Atocha.
The original Atocha train station building was mostly destroyed by fire in the early 1890s. Alberto de Palacio Elissagne was the architect responsible for the old building's new design, which incorporated a style that was predominantly of wrought iron and Gustave Eiffel actually collaborated on the project. The station is exceptional with its steel and glass construction, not to mention the vivid tropical gardens that line its concourse. In addition, travelers can enjoy viewing the permanent display of sculptures found within the station.
The renewed old building was re-opened for service in 1892. It was in constant use for exactly 100 years when in 1992 it effectively became a shopping mall with the addition of a nightclub and various cafés. Some 4,000 square meters of the center of the old building also houses a beautiful tropical garden. Rafael Moneo was responsible for the design of the new Atocha train station terminal building. The design was largely centered round the new high-speed AVE trains that travel to places like Seville and Barcelona. Madrid Atocha is spacious with a light, airy feel, the information counters have English-speaking attendants, and most of the signs are in dual languages, Spanish and English.
Today Madrid's Atocha train station is more reminiscent of a modern airport than of the traditional idea of a railway station. The airport analogy carries over with signed references of "Train Departures" and "Boarding Lounges." You even have your bags scanned before you enter the departure area. Currently around 16 million passengers per year pass through here. The current extension work will separate the station into two terminals for Arrivals and Departures, like an airport, and in fact when inaugurating the first phase of this work, the Minister for Public Works, José Blanco, called it the "nuevo Barajas", Barajas being Madrid's airport.