A story of 75 years of rail innovation, from structural inventions to the high-speed train itself.
Goicoechea, who worked for the La Robla Railway at the time, was very concerned that the railway was becoming increasingly unprofitable—a fact that he attributed to its lack of speed and excessive costs.
The prevailing view at the time was that safety and avoiding derailment depended on railway vehicles having a heavy axle weight and therefore a high center of gravity, when in fact this could lead to trains derailing on bends. Goicoechea proposed a radically different idea: vehicles that were lightweight, robust, and had a low center of gravity.
He presented his argument in favor of the idea on several occasions, to the management of the La Robla Railway in 1936, and to the railway company MZA in 1939, without much success. It was not until 1940 that he was able to test out his hypothesis on the La Robla Railway.
The structure was effective on the narrow-gauge tracks used in the north of the country. As a result, another one was developed (see image) so that it could be adapted to the gauge width used throughout the Iberian peninsula (1,668 millimeters). This structure was used for the first test between the towns of Leganés and Villaverde (Madrid), which was a success.
The prototype was formed of 7 coaches and a locomotive that was no more than a converted old vehicle, adapted and repurposed in Renfe's workshops in Valladolid. As can be seen, the prototype train (or Talgo I) had a radically different frame as well as an innovative and ground-breaking exterior design.
The first commercial Talgo II service ran on July 14, 1950 from Madrid to Hendaye in France. It was the first train in Spain authorized to travel at a speed of 75 miles per hour, although a similar train had already been tested and found to be safe traveling at 90 miles per hour. As well as its characteristic aluminum exterior, the train had a distinctive semicircular end, which was used as a lookout.
Given the additional costs involved in producing a prototype that used electric traction, the decision was taken to use a considerably cheaper diesel engine. The Talgo XXI was the precursor to various technological leaps taken by the company, including the variable gauge on self-propelled power heads, the high-speed running gear (over 137 miles per hour), and the use of hybrid propulsion technology.
Maintaining the characteristic structure of shorter coaches, and wheelsets with wheels in pairs as opposed to in sets of 4, Talgo has created a train that takes full advantage of the gauge, or available track width. The result is an interior layout similar to that of Asian trains, but with the same amount of passenger space as on European lines. This means that greater numbers of passengers can be transported, while lowering ticket prices.
Following the creation of a prototype, in 2016 Talgo was commissioned to produce 20 high-capacity AVRIL trains, accommodating 521 people (compared with just over 400 on previous trains). The variable gauge system—limited up to that point to 155 miles per hour—was also improved to make it suitable for installation in this state-of-the-art train. As a result, the trains will be able to run at high speed along the new lines (with standard European-gauge tracks of 1,435 millimeters), moving seamlessly onto conventional gauge tracks of 1,668 millimeters.
This exhibition was created using archive material (photographic collections, plans, and documents) owned by the Spanish Railways Foundation, as well as various items provided by Patentes Talgo, to whom we extend grateful thanks for their enthusiasm and cooperation in the successful completion of this project.