Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) is a service of high-speed rail in Spain operated by RENFE, the Spanish national railway company, at speeds of up to 310 km/h (193 mph). The name is literally translated from Spanish Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish High Speed), but its initials are also a play on the word ave, meaning "bird". As of December 2011, the Spanish AVE system is the longest HSR network in Europe with 2,144 km (1,332 mi) and the third in the world, after China and Japan.
AVE trains run on a network of dedicated high-speed rail track owned and managed by Adif. The first line was opened in 1992, connecting the cities of Madrid, Córdoba and Seville. Unlike the rest of the Spanish broad gauge network, the AVE uses standard gauge, permitting direct connections outside Spain. Although AVE trains are operated by RENFE, private companies may be allowed to operate trains in the future using other brands, in accordance with European Union legislation. Some TGV-derived trains do run on the broad-gauge network at slower speeds, and these are branded separately as Euromed. On the line from Madrid to Seville, the service guarantees arrival within five minutes of the advertised time, and offers a full refund if the train is delayed further, although only 0.16% of trains have been so. In this regard, the punctuality of the AVE is exceptional compared to other non-long-distance RENFE services. On other AVE lines, this punctuality promise is more lax (15 minutes on the Barcelona line). A possible reason for this is that AVE services slow down to 200 km/h for the Sierra Morena section of the journey, because of the tight curves, and 250 km/h for the Córdoba-Seville section, possibly on account of medium-speed services running on the line, meaning that they have an easy means of recovering lost time if held up earlier in the journey.