The latest section of the national AVE high-speed railway was inaugurated Monday against a backdrop of protests. Speaking at the end of the maiden voyage from Madrid to Alicante, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy described the AVE as a “genuinely productive investment,” and pledged his administration would continue to make the railway a priority.
Rajoy was accompanied by Prince Felipe, who noted that Spain has more kilometers of high-speed rail than any other European country. “Our model has made us a global reference point, and it is an excellent business card for our companies,” said the heir to the throne.
The delegation that was ferried to Alicante was considerably more modest than that dispatched on the first AVE that ran from Madrid to Valencia, which included the king and queen and much of the political class. Rajoy was joined by the public works and foreign ministers, the regional premier of Castilla-La Mancha María Dolores de Cospedal, who got on the train at Albacete, and the Valencian premier Alberto Fabra, who alighted at Villena. Unlike the last inauguration, there was no Iberian cured ham to greet the passengers.
A less-welcome guest was Alicante Mayor Sonia Castedo, who is caught up in an ongoing corruption case. Rajoy and De Cospedal greeted her icily as protests outside the station in Alicante grew warmer. The public was not allowed into the station but made its voice heard in protests against political corruption, public debt and the royal family, which is usually spared the catcalls of its subjects. At one stage during Prince Felipe’s speech a firecracker was set off, causing the heir to the throne to visibly jump.
Fabra noted the extension will allow Alicante to receive 2.25 million visitors a year, a 40-percent increase, which represents 70 million euros in tourism revenue.
The Madrid-Alicante link cost 1.92 billion euros, 230 million of which came from the EU. Spain has the second-largest high-speed rail network in the world after China, at 3,100 kilometers.