A Life in a Year – 11th March, Spanish High Speed Trains (a missed connection)

On 11th March 2004 terrorists detonated bombs on a number of high speed trains approaching Madrid.  I have never travelled on a high speed train in Spain but nearly did in March 2009.

So far that week everything had gone mostly to plan and the itinerary that I planned meticulously had worked well so something just had to go wrong and today it went spectacularly wrong.  On the final full day of the holiday it was our intention to take the train to the capital, Madrid, so we set out alarm clock for a six o’ clock for an early morning start.

It was quite cool as we walked to the bus station next to the Aqueduct and caught the no. 11 bus that would take us to the railway station five kilometres out of town in time to catch the seven-twenty train that would whisk us to the city in thirty-five minutes in time for a traditional Madrileño breakfast.  There was an alternative train on the old line but that journey takes two hours through the mountain so the high-speed bullet train Alta Velocidad Española, or AVE seemed a much better option.

Since the 1990s Spain has engaged in a frenzy of high-speed rail building and is fast catching up with France and Japan, the world leaders, and by 2010 will have the most extensive high-speed rail network in the world as the Government stitches its disparate regions together with a €100 billion system of bullet trains designed to traverse the countryside at up three hundred kilometres an hour.

There were ten minutes to spare and only one person in front of us at the ticket desk so we didn’t wait long to step up and request two return tickets.  The clerk looked at the computer screen and made twitching expressions and tutting noises and I began to fear the worst.  After a minute or so he explained that there were no seats on the train and the next one wasn’t for two hours.  Oh Bugger!  This was something that I hadn’t made allowances for in the plan.  I naturally assumed that train travel would be the same as in the United Kingdom where you turn up at Peterborough station, they sell you a ticket whether there is a seat or not (usually not) and you travel to London standing in the corridor next to the loos.  Sadly this isn’t an option on the AVE bullet train so we could do no other than to go back to Segovia on the same bus that had just brought us here.  The driver seemed a bit surprised because I suspect not many people do a round trip to the railway station at seven o’clock in the morning.

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