The number of passengers travelling by the AVE high-speed railway between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain has surpassed airline passenger traffic for the first time.

At least 651,498 passengers have opted for the rail service, compared to 643,512 using air travel for the same route between July and September 2009.

While the figure shows a 21% increase in rail passenger traffic over the same period in 2008, it shows a drop of 7.5% for airways over the third quarter of 2008 to cover the 314-mile route.

The 236.3kmph rail link opened in 2008 and offers a journey time of 2 hours 40 minutes between the two cities.

The Madrid-Barcelona air route is considered to be
the fifth-busiest air route in the world.

The country plans to invest €119bn on expanding its rail network by 2020, with a view to making railways accessible to all citizens within 50km of their houses.