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miércoles 27 enero 2021

Bertan > Bertan 10 Trenes de Gipuzkoa > Versión en inglés: High-speed trains

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High-speed trains

As from the sixties, and with the indiscriminate development of the car and the construction of modern moterways, it seemed that the railway was destined to become a thing of the past. In fact, the institutions didn't hesitate to back the private vehicle by building several infrastructures in to increase road capacity, while the investments destined to the railway decreased daily.

Circulatory problems, accoustic and atmospheric contamination, and increasingly more dehumanised cities are the tangible consequences of this erroneous transport policy.

96. The High-Speed trains coming from Paris reach Irun every day.
96. The High-Speed trains coming from Paris reach Irun every day.

Public transport is therefore the best alternative to our society's increasing demand for mobility, and the railway has the least aggressive effect on the environment.

However, in order for the railway to be able to compete with the road in the same conditions, it is not enough just to build new trains, since they will be unable to run on the tracks built in the last century, made to suit the speed of steam engines and not for modern versions, while cars travel on modern motorways built at the end of the century.

Japan was the pioner country regarding the development of High-Speed trains. Whilst in Europe the railway was gradually losing its fight against the car, in the country of the rising sun it became the solution to the transport problem in a land characterised by an extremely high population density, thereby making the development of new infrastructures difficult and obliging it to make the most of its available infrastructures.

97. The Talgo train. In spite of its old age, this train can still normally reach a speed of 160 Kms./hr., as long as the alignment of the railway allows it.
97. The Talgo train. In spite of its old age, this train can still normally reach a speed of 160 Kms./hr., as long as the alignment of the railway allows it.

The Japanese railway network comprised narrow-gauge lines built during the last century. Their transport capacity was almost saturated and their technical characteristics didn't permit speeds of more then 100 Km./hr. Although it was possible to try and improve the existing lines, the cost of the operation was extremely high, while the results were poor. For this reason, in 1962, they decided to build a completely new network, with tracks designed for the development of speeds of over 200 Km./hr. The first line, between Tokio and Osaka, opened on the occasion of the Olympic Games, meant an unprecedented revolution, and it has now turned into a sort of regional metro, with trains running between both capitals every five minutes. The reduction in travelling time with respect to the old narrow-gauge line was more than 60%.

The succes of Japanese bullet trains was a real lesson for European railways, on proving that a means of transport considered out-of-date was capable of advantageously competing not only with the road, but also with the airplane in distances shorter than 800 Km. However, the institutions dragged their feet with respect to allocating the necessary economic resources to modernising the railway network.

The first High-Speed train service started running on the European continent in 1981, from Paris to Lyon, and in fact it is France that has been responsible for the main development of High-Speed trains, with frequent 300 Km./hr. services to Bordeaux and, along conventional lines and at lower speeds, to Irún. The construction of the Eurotunnel has permited High-Speed trains to connect Paris and Brussels to London.

Germany and Italy have also started building new high-speed lines, while Great Britain has opted for improving existing lines along which trains can run at speeds of 225 and 250 Km./hr. This choice, more economical and with less impact, is viable in a country with no serious orographical obstacles.

In the Spanish state, the construction of the High-Speed line from Madrid to Seville was the first experience of this kind, while studies are now being made to build new lines from Madrid to Barcelona as well as the so-called Basque "Y" railway, which could see its development compromised by present budgetary limitations.

In the case of the so-called "Y" railway, a new route is being studied which would link Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Donostia and the border, the vertex of which would be located in the area around Arrasate. The roughness of the present railway network is an important setback to the development of high speeds, and its adaptation to present-day necessities is not viable, meaning that it is impossible for it to compete with motorways.

A few voices have recently been raised against High-Speed trains due to their possible environmental impact. It is obvious that any human activity directly and indirectly affects the environment, but, with respect to transport, the railway, and even the High-Speed railway, is less aggressive than the road. It is the only system capable of using the electricity produced by renewable energy sources. The energetic output per transported traveller, in spite of certain recently published information, is far lower than any other means of transport. One excellent example of this is the AVE (High-Speed train) service running from Madrid to Seville, which, in economy mode, travels half the distance with the throttle closed, that is, without consuming energy. It is even capable of generating electricity when it brakes, which can in turn be used by other trains on the line.

Only when we can go from Donostia to Bilbao or Vitoria-Gasteiz in 40 minutes will people stop using their car to cover the same distance.

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