Someday a transportation enthusiast will go to a major European country and come home without raving about the train system.

This is not that day.

Our plans included only one trip where we could make use of Spain's famed high-speed rail network — a relatively short 75-mile jaunt from Seville to Cordoba (roughly the same distance from Philadelphia to Newark on the Northeast Corridor). But that was enough to get a feel for Spain's AVE train, which operates at top speeds of roughly 155 to 185 mph depending on track conditions.

Our trip between the two cities in the southern Andalusia region took a mere 45 minutes, with the train reaching top speeds only after having cleared the Seville area. That's about 10 minutes better than the Amtrak Acela train over the same distance. The time savings would have been more impressive had we taken the full 21/2-hour ride to Madrid — roughly a 12-hour journey by car.

It isn't so much the speed that's impressive about AVE but the quality of the ride. The train seems to glide rather than rumble. It's impressively quiet.

There are some worthy arguments made against federal investment in high-speed rail. They are expensive systems, without a doubt.

Such a service in the Northeast Corridor would likely require a subsidy — anathema to free-market conservatives. But when you figure in the likely productivity gains of professionals who need to move between Washington and Boston, the benefits come into better balance with the costs.

Mostly, it just doesn't feel right that an American has to leave the country to enjoy the experience of a true high-speed train running on a high-quality track. Don't we deserve better than second rate?

michael.dresser@baltsun.com