The remarkable achievements of Spain’s high-speed rail network, are overshadowed by a significant concern: the number of passengers utilising this extensive network is not proportionate to its size.
The rail network is boasting over 4,000 kilometres of tracks, positions the country as the world’s second-largest in terms of high-speed rail infrastructure, surpassed only by China. Despite the impressive extent of the rail network, Spain ranks only seventh globally in high-speed rail passenger numbers, according to the International Union of Railways’ High-Speed Rail Atlas.
This data is even more scandalous when compared with the world leader China, which mobilised some 1.9 billion users in 2021. On the contrary, in Spain there were only 16.8 million users. This shows the big difference between one country and another.
Contrast with other nations
In comparison, countries like France, Germany, Italy, and South Korea are ahead of Spain in high-speed rail passenger numbers. France leads with 86 million passengers, followed by Germany (82 million), Italy (60 million), and South Korea (45 million). These figures, derived from 2021 data, reflect the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disparity between kilometres and users in Spain
This ranking starkly contrasts with the key statistic previously mentioned: with 4,000 kilometres of track, Spain is the world’s second-largest nation in high-speed rail coverage. However, the country is trailing far behind China, which boasts 40,493 kilometres. Despite the extensive network, the usage level does not match the infrastructural capacity. This is indicating an imbalance in the high-speed rail system’s operation and patronage.
A turning point in high-speed rail usage
Despite these challenges, Spain is at a pivotal moment regarding the utilisation and development of its high-speed rail infrastructure. This is primarily due to the entry of new market players like Ouigo and Iryo, which are becoming significant alternatives for millions of travellers.
Increase in high-speed rail usage in 2023
However, there has been a notable increase in high-speed rail usage in 2023. The first quarter saw 6.63 million passengers, the second quarter 8.32 million, and the third quarter an additional 8.4 million. This surge in passenger numbers is a positive sign for Spain’s high-speed rail sector, indicating a potential shift towards better utilisation of the existing infrastructure.