By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – After two decades of promises and 16 years of construction in Spain, the first high-speed train connecting Madrid to the northern region of Galicia was inaugurated on Monday.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Felipe VI were among the high-profile leaders who took the first high-speed train from the Spanish capital to the Galician city of Ourense.
The connection was first promised in 2000 by the government of Jose Maria Aznar. Part of the route had already been finished by 2007, but the 120 kilometers (74 miles) link to Galicia was still lacking.
“This was not easy. The technical challenges of this complex infrastructure were compounded by the 2008 financial crisis,” Sanchez said at the inauguration.
The Spanish government has spent just over $11 billion to complete the passenger train route and has ambitions for expanding it to the city of Santiago de Compostela.
Political leaders hailed the new train route, which shaves around one-and-a-half hours off the journey to Madrid, for opening the door to more economic activity like tourism.
Currently, around 80% of people who travel to Galicia go by airplane, according to the train operator Renfe. With the high-speed rail, Renfe hopes trains will soon make up half of all journeys.
But not everyone is confident that the route will be safe.
The head of a group that represents the 80 people who died when a train derailed in Galicia used the occasion to hand Sanchez a letter that called him a “hypocrite” for inaugurating the line before completing a “technically independent investigation” of what led to the 2013 tragedy, according to Spanish daily El Mundo.
The investigation into that accident found that the derailment was caused by the train’s conductor, who was traveling at more than double the speed limit for that section of the railroad.
Brussels, however, released a report in 2013 that said the accident, which was the worst in Spain in more than 40 years, was not “investigated in an independent manner.”