Inventory of bridges and viaducts of the Spanish high-speed rail (AVE)

Edgar dos Santos

2018 - Ongoing

" Architecture - and by extension the City and its spaces - make up a synthesis - perhaps unique - of Geographical Infrastructure, Economic Structure and Ideological Superstructure".

Antoni Miranda, architect and essayist

This is a tour around the bridges and viaducts of the high-speed rail line between Madrid and Barcelona to explore the social and environmental implications of a territory in the shadow of the AVE (Spanish High-Speed). A territory that supports the most powerful infrastructure and emblem of modernity in Spain, but that leaves it out of the image it projects. An infrastructure that is the fruit of political, economic and territorial power at the service of speculation and spectacularisation. Progress and capitalism impose their interests and aesthetics conditioning the human and natural landscape of the territory.

The submission of the territory, the depopulation of the rural world, political corruption, a centralist state model, its public projection... are some of the issues that emerge along the way.

The documentary and compilation nature of the project is mixed and confused with other ways of interpreting the conquest of space and time. In its journey the project explores the links between photography and the railway, the perception of time and space, the territory and its representation.

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  • 02 - Promos.
    The image of a country linked to high speed, of which it is a world reference, contributes to the projection of Spain as a technological and modern power. The promotion of the AVE has been well covered by the media and studied advertising campaigns in charge of transmitting an image of progress and well-being, associating them with concepts such as saving time, speed, sustainability and the project of a better future.

  • 17 - Viaduct near Alhama de Aragón.
    The railroad, as an artifact of modernity, modified space and time, shortened distances and made it necessary to specify the time to balance the timetables of the trains. While the railroad strove to go faster and farther, photography did so to freeze time and encompass everything.

  • 14 - Viaduct near La Riba by google maps.
    The changes in the social conception of time and space that have occurred since the transport and communications revolution, and the consequent changes in our representation of the world, have led to a new space-time compression.

  • 12 - Carton. Viaduct near Lleida.
    The environmental and socio-economic benefits of the AVE are difficult to quantify. It is estimated that they save millions of hours of travel, avoid millions of tons of CO2, improve long-distance connections and intensify trade relations. However, the strong energy demand and the high economic cost are also questioned. The AVE network is among the largest and most underused in the world, its economic balance sheet is in deficit and it has a debt of 15.8 billion euros that requires it to pay 400 million euros a year only in financial expenses.

  • 03 - The observer. Viaduct near Cornellà, Barcelona.
    The corridor that joins the two capitals is the largest number of travellers, the longest, and the fastest in average speed of all the Ave lines. With the construction of these lines and those that followed, the Spanish economic miracle designed and consolidated the largest high-speed rail network in Europe, and 2nd in the world, falling behind only China.

  • 11 - Three neighbours playing cards. Viaduct near Plasencia de Jalon.
    "The decision to build high-speed lines is often based on political considerations and cost-benefit analyses are not typically used to make decisions." It is one of the conclusions of the EU Court of Auditors' report published on June 2018. Although Spain has been the main beneficiary of EU subsidies for high speed, this effort has not resulted in better connections with neighbouring states.

  • 18 - Path and tree. Viaduct near Anchuelo.
    The Madrid-Barcelona line closely follows the ancient Roman roads. For centuries these pathways and their branches served to establish relationships and vertebrate the territory, collect taxes or lead armies. Like the skilful Roman engineers who applied themselves to drawing the straightest line between two points, the layout of the AVE seeks the straightest path, in a balance of technological and environmental costs, political and social interests.

  • 04 - A couple. Viaduct near Perafort.
    The railway creates a great world along its path. It projects a powerful image but also transform and condition the life of their surroundings. It gives rise to new and complex infrastructures and relationships between distant points, but with its physical presence it also transforms the landscape and establishes new relations with the more immediate territory. Whether as a protagonist or as a backdrop, the railway becomes a benchmark for changes in society.

  • 05 - Portrait. Near Sant Sadurní.
    High speed has opted for a radial design, linking the provincial capitals with Madrid, although not with each other, as a model of territorial equality. The AVE draws its own map weaving the centre with the periphery regardless of the higher concentrations of population (mostly on its shores), the most dynamic areas, or the connection with Europe. Like China or Turkey, Spain has prioritized administrative status by uniting provincial capital over other considerations such as traffic density or economic flow.

  • 06 - After Portrait. Near Sant Sadurní.

  • 20 - Sin (without)
    Like a map that folds to unite Madrid and Barcelona in space, the Ave line has reduced the distance between the two capitals but has left the intermediate territory that supports it apart from its benefits, as if the progress of society was sustained on the back of a "terrain vague" that does not have much to say. (Sin, from folded SpaIN, means without).

  • 01 - Spain.
    The first high-speed train (Ave) left Madrid for Seville in 1992. In 2008, after 6 years of delays, the line between Madrid and Barcelona was inaugurated. This line is the most expensive Spanish public infrastructure to date and the longest line with 649 km, of which 32 km pass through a total of 149 bridges and viaducts.

  • 15 - Viaduct near Puigdelfí.
    Burning the old trees

  • 10 - Train hunter photographers. Viaduct near Santa Fe.
    The documentary nature of photography has served to publicly project the image of the railway. Due to their dimensions, design and location, bridges and viaducts exert a power of seduction that has often been used by the media, artists and amateurs as a motive for their creations.

  • 08 - Viaduct near Sant Boi, Barcelona.
    As the sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefevre describes in "The production of space" each society produces its own space according to its own way of thinking about the world. Space as a product of social, political and economic relations.

  • 16 - Viaduct that was not.
    The original layout was deflected by the interests of a local businessman linked to the political power. The management and construction of the Ave lines and stations has been plagued by fraudulent operations: commissions, spectacular over cost, fraudulent re-qualifications, bribes, real estate speculations, rigged tenders... and in which are involved from officials to kings, politicians and businessmen of the first line.

  • 09 - Train hunter photographers. Viaduct near Santa Fe.
    Railway and photography are the result of the industrial revolution, they are born and developed in parallel with the consolidation of a new capitalist society. Their relationship is especially fruitful.

  • 13 - Viaduct near Villanueva de Jalon.
    The commitment to bring high speed to each provincial capital has meant that the conventional network and investments in medium and short distances have been neglected, as this is what truly supports the territory and is used by 80% of travellers. The conventional network is more than 13,000 kilometres long compared to the 3,000 kilometres of the AVE high-speed train. Despite this, almost all investment is aimed at extending the latter. The priority given to the connectivity of large cities and large economic flows has contributed to seeing the city as a place with more opportunities than the already abandoned rural world.

  • 07 - Viaduct near Sant Boi, Barcelona.
    The State acts as an organizer of the territory, of collective habits and consumption (production of land value and distribution of goods and people) and in a certain way of daily life.

  • 19 - The weekend gardener. Viaduct near Madrid.
    As Ramon Alcoberro says in the prologue of "Walden, or Life in the Woods" by H.D. Thoreau: "It is not man who governs the machine, but the mechanical criteria of efficiency and utility that are taming human life." Or as Thoreau would say: "It is not we who get on the train; it is the train that gets on us"