The contemporary railway system in Spain comprises, first, the Spanish standard gauge system operated by the Spanish state railway company Renfe; second, the High Speed service operating on European gauge track (see also AVE); third, the narrow gauge systems operated by the state enterprise FEVE, regional public enterprises and private companies; and fourth, the underground railways in Barcelona, Bilbao and Madrid.
   There are a number of inherent weaknesses in the railway system. These stem partly from the mountainous topography, a thinly populated interior with widely spread traffic centres, and a densely populated coastal fringe. The standard gauge system radiates out from Madrid over a distance of some 12,700 km, with an important transverse link through the Ebro valley and a high capacity route along the Mediterranean coast from the French frontier to Valencia. This radial network restricts cross-country rail travel, and not all the major urban industrial areas of Spain have direct connections with Madrid.
   The standard gauge of 1,672 mm (6 pies castellanas), established in 1844, is relatively wide in comparison with other national railways, which rendered direct rail communications between Spain and France impossible until the introduction of the cumbersome technology of trains with variable axles in the 1960s. Other weaknesses which afflict the system in the late twentieth century are the extent of single line working, relatively steep gradients, low radius curves and on some routes the poor condition of the track, all the result of under-investment in the past and all contributing to relatively slow speeds over the network. In the late twentieth century investment in the railways was directed at upgrading the system especially on commuter routes and on long distance inter-city routes. Commuter networks, especially those around Barcelona and Madrid, handle the largest volume of passenger traffic. Inter-city routes offer opportunities for capturing traffic from both the roads and air. The most notable example of inter-city route investment has been in the High Speed Train service, and in plans to expand this service to connect it with the High Speed railway network being developed across Europe. Investment has also gone into upgrading other routes, through for example new rolling stock (including the fast "Talgo" trains of Spanish design and manufacture that run on standard gauge track), improved track, double track, electrification and new signalling, notably along the Mediterranean corridor. Such developments are shifting the network towards a more axial pattern based on a central corridor Seville-Madrid—Barcelona/ Bilbao and a Mediterranean corridor.
   Apart from the high density traffic routes, many lines have only been kept open through government subsidies and in some cases operating agreements with regional governments. Such arrangements raise the important political question of how far railway services should be seen as public services and open up the whole issue of transport policy.
   See also: transport
   Further reading
   - Martin Aceña, P., Comín, M., Muñoz Rubio, M. and Vidal Olivares, J. (1998) 150 Años de los Ferrocarriles Españoles, 2 vols, Madrid: Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles (history of Spanish railways from 1848 to 1998).
   - Boag, G.L. (1923) The Railways of Spain, London: The Railway Gazette (covers their development up to the early twentieth century).
   - Izquierdo, R. (1993) "Breve evolución histórica del ferrocarril en España", Situación 3/4: 7– 19,Bilbao: Banco Bilbao Vizcaya.
   - Wais, F. (1987) Historia de los ferrocarriles españoles, 3rd edn, vols 1 and 2, Madrid: Editora Nacional por la Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles (a detailed account of the development of the railways can be found here and in publications by Renfe).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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