The trip from Madrid to Alicante was a shear pleasure thanks to Spain's high speed train system. Looking out the window at speeds of over 200 miles per hour was impressive. I was also pleased and surprised to arrive at my destination before I even knew it, after sipping a cup of coffee and having a light snack at the bar coach. The 120v outlet in the bathroom was also a nice touch, especially since my phone was in the red since I had forgotten to bring along the adapter. The system operator is AVE an acronym for High Speed Spain in Spanish.
Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) is a service of high speed rail in Spain operated by Renfe Operadora, the Spanish national railway company, at speeds of up 200 miles per hour or more. Alta Velocidad Española translates to "Spanish High Speed", but the initials are also a play on the word ave, meaning "bird". As of June 2013, the Spanish AVE system is the longest HSR network in Europe with 3,100 km (1,900 mi) and the second in the world, after China's.
AVE trains run on a network of high-speed rail track owned and managed by Adif, where other high-speed (Avant, Alvia) and mid-speed (Altaria) services also operate. The original line was opened in 1992, connecting the cities of Madrid, Córdoba and Seville. Unlike the rest of the Iberian broad gauge network, the AVE uses standard gauge, permitting direct connections outside Spain. Although AVE trains are operated by Renfe, private companies may be allowed to operate trains in the future using other brands, in accordance with European Union legislation. On the line from Madrid to Seville, the service guarantees arrival within five minutes of the advertised time, and offers a full refund if the train is delayed further, although only 0.16% of trains have been so. In this regard, the punctuality of the AVE is exceptional compared to other non-long-distance Renfe services. On other AVE lines, this punctuality promise is more lax (15 minutes on the Barcelona line). A possible reason for this is that AVE services slow down to 200 km/h for the Sierra Morena section of the journey, because of the tight curves, and 250 km/h for the Córdoba-Seville section, possibly on account of medium-speed services running on the line, meaning that they have an easy means of recovering lost time if held up earlier in the journey.
High speed trains just plain make sense. Surely this is why in my neck of the woods, Florida, there are already plans in the works for a high speed train from Orlando to Miami. One thing worth noting as a point of distinction between the Spanish system and the planned system for Florida, is the lack of planned stops en-route in Florida. That is to say, the system in Florida will be providing practically non-stop service. While this perhaps is feasible in terms of adding value to the majority of the system's customer base, it has received criticism from smaller en-route localities that would benefit from having a train stop. Just such is the case in my home in Fort Pierce, Florida.