AVE BARCELONA TO MÁLAGA
Time: 5hr 40 mins
Frequency: two trains daily
Stops: Taragona, Lleida, Zaragoza, Cordoba, Puente Genil, Antequera.
The AVE route runs on the Barcelona to Madrid section opened in February 2008, the Madrid to Córdoba section opened in April 1992, and the Córdoba to Málaga section opened on 24 December 2007. The older section has a maximum speed of 270 km/h and the newer sections 300 km/h.
Many of the Barcelona to Seville and Barcelona to Malaga trains travel coupled together from Barcelona to Cordoba. As all passengers have seats reserved by coach number and seat number it would be difficult to be on the wrong half of the train by mistake.
After leaving Barcelona, the train stays in Catalonia, following the Costa Dorada as far as its first stop, the ancient city of Tarragona. It then heads inland into Aragon, where it stops at Lleida and Zaragoza, passing around the south of Madrid, whose skyscrapers can be seen in the distance from the right hand side. A link line installed in 2010 removed the need for the Barcelona to Seville or Malaga trains to enter Madrid Atocha station and change direction. The tain now heads south.
The train passes through the plains of Castilla la Mancha and the Montes de Toledo, stopping at Ciudad Real. Look out for the castles of Guadalerzas, just after Los Yerbenes (between Toledo and Ciudad Real), and Herrera, between Ciudad Real and Puertollano, the next station. This used to feature a very industrial coal mining landscape but it has now been cleaned up. After slowing to 80 km/h or stopping for Puertollano the train takes advantage of a 270 km/h section of track, the last higher speed section before Sevilla.
Soon one can feel the downhill inclination as the train leaves the plains of Castilla la Mancha, where the speed is maintained at 250 km/h.
Shortly after the emergency halt platform and electricity feeder station at Venta de la Ines (Cuidad Real) the train passes through two small tunnels and crosses the River Guadalmez on a 786-metre long viaduct. This is the rather unceremoniously crossing into Andalucía. No bells or whistles, and no "toot toot" from the driver.
You might just identify the Conquista passing bay and emergency halt platform after the A-3200 overbridge.
These halts are Puesto de adelantamiento y estacionamiento de trenes, PAETs, intermediate emergency sidings. You might just catch a glimpse flashing past. Some feature a lay-by siding to allow faster trains to overtake slower trains, or are used to park track maintenance vehicles. Most have basic platforms that could be used to let passengers descend and change to buses in the event of an emergency.
Now the train is crossing the Sierra Morena. The speed drops to 150 km/h to pass through the rural Villanueva de Cordoba - Los Pedroches station, added in 2014 to improve the economy of the Los Pedroches rural area. However, since only the Algeciras and some Sevilla trains stop here, the initiative must have been more political than economic.
The speed picks up again to 215 km/h and then drops to 200 km/h, apparently for tunnels and tight curve restrictions, the tightest on the line being the Adamuz-Villanueva 2,300-metre radius.
Emerging from the Montoro tunnel the landscape is noticeably much hillier and features steep wooded ravines, rock cuttings and small tunnels and some tight bends. After this the speed picks up to 250 km/h again.
The mountains of the Sierra Morena are left behind and the scenery becomes undulating farmland. The train continues downhill toward the Guadalquivir river plane. It turns westwards, and the AVE line is soon sitting between the Guadalquivir River and old Córdoba railway on flat countryside.
The train enters Córdoba city outskirts in a series of tunnels at 90 km/h before entering the very dark concrete-grey underground Córdoba station The AVE with five platforms shares the station with the four platforms of the original broad-gauge lines. Check the temperature on the train's panel: if it is summer it may well be over 40 degrees Celsius outside.
Leaving Córdoba, passing an industrial zone, the train runs alongside the broad-gauge Sevilla single tracks which cross over to the south side on an overbridge, accelerating to 250 km/h in four and a half minutes, before slowing to 225 km/h in preparation for the Malaga branch.
Thirteen kilometres from Córdoba, just outside the village of Los Mochos near Almodovar del Rio, the two tracks split into four and the Málaga tracks swing south on a flyover, soon to cross over the Guadalquivir River on a low 880-metre long viaduct which you don't even notice from the train. It now picks up speed to 290 km/h. A new loop-link is to be constructed here to save the Málaga to Sevilla trains having to call at Córdoba and change direction.
The line slowly climbs out of the Guadalquivir river valley into undulating olive tree landscape. This is the newer track, which was opened on 17 December 2006, and most of the length has a maximum speed of 300 km/h. Your train will accelerate to near this before slowing for the next station after first crossing the Genil River in undulating farmland on a low 1,390-metre viaduct, the longest on the line. This contrasts with the same river gorge and road and old rail bridges in the town a few kilometres upstream.
Puente Genil-Herrera station from the outside is architecturally interesting. Train passengers, however, only see the two concrete platforms in stone cutting walls. The small towns of Puernte Genil and Herrera share the station that sits, inconveniently for both, midway between them. The station provides two non-stopping lines for overtaking trains.
The line continues south through the Sierra de los Caballos to Antequera-Santa Ana. This is a new station out of town and was little used at first. When the Antequera Granada AVE route is opened in late 2018 the Antequera station will be an interchange. It is located not far from Bobadilla station, the important hub for the old lines (Crewe junction of Andalucía). The Málaga-Antequera-Sevilla trains currently travel via Córdoba, but in the future there will be a semi-direct line and eventually a direct route from here to Dos Hermanos south of Sevilla.
Crossing the farmed plains of Antequera, the "lovers leap" rock can be seen in the distance from the left-hand side of the train.
The line enters its most difficult section due terrain crossing the Sierra Betica costal mountain range with numerous tunnels and viaducts. The line passes the lakes of El Chorro, but not as spectacularly close as the original Córdoba to Málaga railway line that encountered the same issues 140 years before.
The trains slow down to 160 km/h for Gobantes tunnel (1,792 metres) and the Abdalajis tunnel, which is 7,300 metres long, making it the third longest operational rail tunnel in Spain after the Guadarrama and Pajares.
The Arroyo de las Piedras viaduct is 1,208 metres long and 93.4 metres high, making it the highest viaduct along this line. The next long viaducts in this section cross the Arroyo del Espinazo (870 metres) and Arroyo Jévar (837 metres); and next are the five tunnels Alora, El Espartal, Tevilla, Gibralmora and finally Cártama, making this a particularly interesting section of line.
All this last section of AVE line can be clearly seen from the left side of an airplane approaching Málaga Airport from the north. The line still looks like a scar on the arid landscape.
The train is now on the flat coastal plane of Málaga-Guadalhorce River. Crossing the motorway near Campanillas, a village (or more correctly a Málaga district) between Cartama and Málaga, the train travels at 140 km/h.Passing engineering works and industrial zones, it is now a short, slow, smooth ride into the outskirts of Málaga, where the train passes through a long underpass under the inner city district to draw to a halt silently at the Málaga Maria Zambrano terminal, where the AVE has platforms one to five and the older broad-gauge has platforms six to eight.
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