LA ESTACIÓN, SPAIN -- On a crisp fall Saturday morning, Luis Valciente and Mercedes Martin enjoy the quiet of their farm about 20 miles northeast of Seville.
The retired husband and wife bought their patch of land in 1987, several years before Spain's first high-speed trains started running between Madrid and Seville.
"It's very tranquil, which is what we like after all these years," Martin says through an interpreter.
Without warning, a loud "swoosh" briefly interrupts the couple's conversation with a reporter. Within seconds, the noise subsides, and the couple picks up the chat, unruffled, right where they left off.
It's one of Spain's AVE high-speed trains rushing from Madrid to Seville on tracks about 100 feet from the rear of the couple's modest home. The high-speed tracks -- a portion of the nation's first high-speed rail line that opened in 1992 -- are next to older conventional rail tracks just over the back fence.
To passengers aboard the train, the Valciente farm is little more than a blur at the side of the tracks about 10 minutes before they get to Seville, the southern terminus for AVE trains that come and go from the Santa Justa Station. Each train sends a fresh buzz of activity through the station and a small surge of cabs, cars and pedestrians onto the busy streets near the historic city's commercial center. Nearby restaurants, shops and rental-car agencies vie for attention from the new arrivals.
As Spain's system connects major urban centers and smaller provincial capitals, it also runs across fertile agricultural regions, including Castile-La Mancha and Andalusia, known for fine olive oils; Valencia, where citrus is prominent; and Catalonia, where vineyards produce most of the grapes fermented for cava, the region's sparkling wine.
But despite crossing both cityscapes and farmland, Spain's high-speed rail program stirred no major opposition in either urban or rural environs. When work began in the late 1980s, the nation's economy was in good shape, and Spain was readying itself to host both a world exposition and the Olympics.
In the countryside, Barcelona transportation engineer Andreu Ulied said, the Spanish government went to great lengths--and great expense--to minimize effects on farms. They skirted farmland where they could, built frequent overpasses and underpasses, and generously compensated owners who lost property to the project.
In larger Spanish cities such as Madrid, Seville, Valencia, Cordova and Barcelona, stations for high-speed trains are in already-developed central-city commercial districts, often near existing train stations to minimize disruptions. In Barcelona, preservationists' fears about a train tunnel under the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia forced extensive and expensive engineering measures to avoid damaging the iconic church.
Merchants doing business near the stations generally say high-speed rail is good for commerce, even when they are unsure if it has directly helped their own stores and restaurants.
Ulied, economist Germà Bel and others, however, say the prospects for economic gains by high-speed rail cities are murky at best, and at worst might actually bleed commerce from smaller cities along the routes between larger destinations.
Bridges, underpasses help in farmland
Valciente and Martin, both in their 70s, tend to orange trees, fruit trees and corn on their 6 1/2-acre farm. Chickens roam uncaged, pecking at the dirt around the pomegranate trees, pepper plants and cacti in the yard.
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