Politécnica de Madrid

A better territorial cohesion in Spain thanks to high-speed rail

Researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid have studied the effects of high-speed rail in Spain on the territorial cohesion and the results show an improvement close to 15% of territorial cohesion in Spain between 1990 and 2015.

According to a study carried out by researchers from the Transport Research Centre (TRANSyT) at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), the improvements in high-speed rail networks have greatly contributed to the territorial cohesion goals in Spain. The study concludes that the location of the stations is a key element to achieve the potential benefits.

Besides, strategic planning should also consider the access and exit trips, and good connections with secondary rail and road networks. The results have been recently published in the European Planning Studies journal.

Credit: Renfe

Since the first high-speed rail (AVE) was opened in Spain in 1992 (Madrid-Seville), the following lines have achieved about 3,200 km, being the longest high-speed rail network in Europe. This would explain why the improvement in access levels was very high.

However, does the new high-speed network have contributed to a balanced territorial distribution of accessibility levels throughout Spain? This question has a significant implication for the territorial cohesion and it is an essential aspect in transport policies in the European Union. In this way, a team of professors from ETSI Caminos, Canales y Puertos and School of Forestry Engineering and Natural Resources, who are members from the Transport Research Centre (TRANSyT) at UPM, has studied the distribution of the territorial accessibility improvements caused by the high speed network in Spain.


Differences (%) in accessibility levels 1990-2015. Credit: Monzón, López & Ortega. 360.revista de alta velocidad nº 6 (2018).

The obtained results show that the development of the high-speed network in Spain has improved the accessibility levels by 49%. At the same time, disparity among regions was reduced achieving greater levels of territorial cohesion in the distribution of accessibility. Andrés Monzón, the main researcher of this study, points out “it is important to emphasize that the highest benefits were neither focused on Madrid nor on Barcelona, but in small or medium-sized cities”.

The first AVE corridors (Madrid-Seville, Madrid-Barcelona, and Madrid-Valencia) gave priority to efficiency, hence the connection among the most populated cities. Later, the cohesion objectives gained importance and new corridors to connect peripheral areas in the north and northwest were built. This situation resulted in a general reduction of the territorial unbalance in terms of accessibility.

Cities with no high-speed service show almost the same improvements as other cities with AVE corridor. This is due to these cities have partial high-speed connections to the main cities and the connections to high-speed rails are of relatively good quality.
However, there are some areas where the changes in accessibility levels are low such as Extremadura, Galicia, and País Vasco. It is expected an improvement of these areas in the near future improving the territorial cohesion thanks to the ongoing construction of new AVE rails.

“The impact assessment of the territorial cohesion of new high-speed lines is complex and ambitious”, Emilio Ortega says, another TRANSYT researcher involved in this study. “This work was addressed from the perspective of improving accessibility. In order to provide strong conclusions, the results will require a broader evaluation that includes benefits and costs”.


Andres Monzón, Elena López & Emilio Ortega (2019). Has HSR improved territorial cohesion in Spain? An accessibility analysis of the first 25 years: 1990–2015. European Planning Studies, 27(3), 513-532. doi.org/10.1080/09654313.2018.1562656

Andres Monzón, Elena López & Emilio Ortega (2018). Impactos del AVE en la cohesión territorial. Un análisis de los cambios en la accesibilidad en el período 1990-2015. 360.revista de alta velocidad 6:405-415