THE 481 km initial section of Spain’s Madrid - Barcelona high speed line was inaugurated on October 10 by King Juan Carlos, who was accompanied by Renfe President Michel Corsini and other VIPs on a special trip to Zaragoza Delicias (right). Commercial services began running at 06.40 on October 11, almost a year later than originally envisaged.

The Madrid - Lleida route is initially served by 11 trains each way per day. Four of these are AVEs, and the other seven are Altaria services worked by gauge-convertible Talgo trainsets. One Altaria only runs between Madrid and Zaragoza, but the remaining six continue beyond Lleida over the broad gauge route to and from Barcelona. Over the first weekend of service, the line carried a total of 8037 passengers.

Pending the completion of ETCS Level 2 signalling, the trains are operating using Renfe’s existing ASFA train control equipment, with speeds limited to 200 km/h, although the line is designed for 350 km/h operation. Fastest journey from Madrid Atocha to Lleida is 2h 40min, compared to 5h via the old route. Madrid - Zaragoza timings come down from 3h to 1h 45min, and Madrid - Barcelona from 7h to 4h 30min.