A high-speed AVE train link has been inaugurated this week between the Spanish region of Murcia and Madrid, after waiting 19 years and four months for it to become a reality.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and king Felipe VI travelled on the inaugural journey on Monday, with the country’s national train operator RENFE opening the service for the general public from Tuesday.
‘We’re putting an end to an unfair and prolonged isolation, we’re settling a historic debt,’ Sánchez said about the €1.9 billion rail project that is intended to be a further development of the so-called ‘Mediterranean Corridor’.
Although Spain’s rail infrastructure is one of the most extensive in the world, the regions of Murcia and Extremadura still have the worst railway connections to the rest of the country. Murcia is home to 1.5 million people, among them 250,000 foreigners.
RENFE has said that there will be eight daily AVE services on the new route inaugurated this week, four in each direction between Murcia and Madrid, equating to 2,824 daily seats.
Half of the services start or end at Madrid’s Chamartín station and stop in Orihuela and Elche in the province of Alicante. It will take two hours and 45 minutes to complete the 400-km journey.
The other daily services depart or reach Madrid’s Atocha station and stop in Elche, Alicante city and Villena (all in Alicante province) as well as in Albacete and Cuenca in Castilla-La Mancha. This service takes three hours and 25 minutes.
On Monday, Sánchez also announced that Spain’s free train ticket scheme will be applicable to the mid-distance service between Murcia and Alicante.
While the new AVE route to Madrid helps to address Murcia’s rail isolation, there are locals that remain unsatisfied. Many have said the new route will take longer and be more expensive than the service that connected the Murcian city of Cartagena with Madrid via Chinchilla.
They have also criticised the fact that the new AVE doesn’t stop in Murcia’s two other key municipalities – Cartagena and Lorca. It also comes after work done on the line plunged the region into a ‘railway blackout’ for three and a half years.
A planned construction that would have involved the building of a 9-kilometre wall through the city, splitting it n two, provoked huge protests. Residents called for the new railway lines to instead run underground in Murcia city centre to avoid creating urban accessibility problems, demands which officials ended up meeting.