Spain launched a new high-speed rail line from Barcelona on Tuesday that officials said will speed up passenger connections to France and boost the economy.
Spain's Crown Prince Felipe, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the president of the Catalonia region Artur Mas rode in the inaugural trip on the new line linking Barcelona with Girona and Figueres near the French border.
The new stretch of line is relatively short at 131 kilometres, but is part of a broader project to link together the French and Spanish high-speed tracks across the border.
That link-up, which the Spanish government says will be completed in April, would take passengers between Barcelona and major French cities without changing trains, further cutting journey times.
Rajoy called it "one of the most ambitious and significant works ever planned in our country, a strategic route aimed at becoming a new axis of prosperity for Catalonia, the rest of Spain and all of Europe," he told a news conference in Girona.
The new €3.7-billion stretch of line will shave an hour off the journey between Barcelona and Paris as well as boosting the domestic economy, the Spanish government said.
Passengers will now be able to travel from Paris to Barcelona in six and a half hours and Paris to Madrid in about 10 hours. For the moment this will still involve changing trains at Figueres, near the border.
The new section of line took the total length of Spain's active high-speed lines to 3000 kilometres, the second longest such network in the world after China's, the Spanish government said.