The high-speed rail business is more than a technology. It is an attractive and environmentally friendly transportation mode and the solution for sustainable mobility needs.
Many different discussions have existed about the correct definition of high-speed rail. Most opinions agree with the idea of considering high-speed trains as those that are able to operate above 200 kilometers per hour (kph) (125 miles per hour (mph)). However, this speed is nowadays considered by experts as a relatively slow speed. Most high-speed trains today travel at 250 to 300 kph (150 to 185 mph). But many high-speed trains are technologically developed to reach more than 300 kph (185 mph) and in test tracks some have even reached more than 500 kph (300 mph).
High-speed rail saves time, gives additional capacity to other modes of transportation, reduces external costs negative in other transportion modes (congestion, noise, pollution, accidents), helps tourist development, expands markets and stimulates allocation of employment.
In terms of sustainability, high-speed rail is the most efficient mode of transport. Experts’ studies made by the UIC (International Union of Railways) show that high-speed trains generate five times less CO2 emissions than cars and air traffic with the same level of transport capacity. High-speed rail helps to protect the environment. Transportation accounts for 30 percent of CO2 emissions, due mainly to road and air traffic. For example, in Europe it is expected that 60 European airports will become congested in the next 20 years.
Spain has, during the last few decades, made an important commitment for the development, implementation and use of high-speed rail as a transportation mode. It is important to emphasize that the success of this development in Spain is a story full of social, political and economical commitment. High-speed rail in Spain is no longer a privilege, but an opportunity for all citizens no matter where they live.
During the last UIC Highspeed Conference in Amsterdam in March, the technical, political, commercial and environmental issues that will shape the evolution of high-speed rail travel over the next few years were debated. As Luc Aliadière, UIC chief executive, mentioned during this conference, “High-speed rail offers benefits to the whole of society in terms of its contribution to sustainable development. It is a powerful tool at the service of town and country planning and of economic and social development.”
Spain has embarked on an ambitious project to develop high-speed rail connections throughout the country. Spain will be the nation with the longest network of high-speed rail network in the world in service by the year 2010, before the leading countries in this mode of transportation: Japan and France. And by 2020, 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of high-speed lines are forecasted.
In this process, many national companies are responsible for the technological development of products and solutions used later on trains, infrastructure, signalling, maintenance, traffic control, security, stations, etc.
By mid 2008 there will be 1,563 kilometers (971 miles) of high-speed lines operating in Spain. Additionally, the construction of another 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) is under way. Further, an investing effort is being made in Spain to update railway services, making progress in improving railway safety, which is increasingly becoming a fundamental matter. Therefore, the updating and normalization of signaling systems by implementing the European interoperable European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), as well as digital ASFA (the Spanish train protection system), has become an essential ally in the development of high-speed rail in Europe.
ERTMS is the union of the European Train Control System (ETCS) and Global System for Mobile communications – Railway (GSM-R) systems. ETCS is the new command-control system. GSM-R is the new radio system for voice and data communication. Together, they form ERTMS, the new signaling and management system for Europe, enabling interoperability throughout the European Rail Network.