Today, Renfe is the sole train operator for passenger transport. In 2020, coinciding with the obligation of opening this market across the European Union, other competitors will be able to offer this kind of train service. It must also be noted that the stations and railways are owned by the Spanish State and managed and serviced by the public sector company Adif, “Administrador de Infraestructuras Ferroviarias” (Railway Infrastractures Administrator).
The ‘crown jewel’ of our train system is the AVE, “Alta Velocidad Española” (Spanish High Speed). The first line, Madrid-Seville, was opened in 1992 coinciding with the celebration of the World Fair, “Expo 92 Sevilla”. This was a remarkable year for Spain: the Olympic Games were also held in Barcelona, and there were many events commemorating 500 years since Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. The aftermath of all these celebrations resulted in a painful hangover in the form of a deep economic crisis.
Since then, we have gone from 476 km of high-speed railways to 3240 km. After China, Spain holds the second largest high-speed network in the world. This audacious and sometimes controversial development has also been possible thanks to the financing of European Union. It has also contributed to the global expansion of Spanish companies working around the design, development, construction, and maintenance of railways and station infrastructure and train technologies.
Although using this transport can be expensive, primarily on high-speed lines, there are offers available depending on the dates and times you travel, together with the flexibility you seek and whether you are looking for a single or round trip. For medium distance trains that are not high-speed there are also monthly passes available. Students and elderly people also qualify for lower rates.
With the purchase of this kind of tickets, you are also entitled to free commuting train around the station of your departure or arrival.
International travels to Portugal and France are also available, with night trains to the capitals of both countries, and a high-speed train to the South of France. Touristic packages in certain routes of Spain are also available and include transportation in vintage trains, meals and accommodation on board, and excursions.
Joint-offers with bus, airplane, and boat operators to ease your purchase and transfers to/from wherever the train station is not nearby but using a train is convenient, primarily related to the high-speed.
The “Tren+Autobus” (train+bus) program works with several companies. One example of how it works: Marbella is around one hour away from Malaga. Renfe offers you a joint ticket with Avanza, so you go from Madrid’s Atocha station to Malaga’s Maria Zambrano Station and from there you take Avanza’s bus to Marbella. If you were to go solely by bus from Marbella to Madrid, the journey would be longer and more uncomfortable.
With regards to the combination with airplane, “Train & Fly”, if you travel from or to Zaragoza, Valladolid, Sevilla, Córdoba or Málaga, you can combine in one ticket/transaction your travel with the Spanish airline Iberia (through its hub in Madrid airport), including also the transfer via commuting train to the airport from Madrid’s train stations where the high-speed trains arrive or departure, Atocha and Chamartín. One example is that you can buy your ticket in Renfe’s “Train & Fly” site from New York to Cordoba.
For frequent users, usually business people, there are 10-ticket coupons available that provide 35% discount off the base rate, having to choose two train-stations for them and being able to use the tickets as many times as you wish in each direction.
Renfe’s loyalty card, +Renfe card (“tarjeta”), also allows you to save and get additional benefits depending on the frequency and class of your travels.
My experience with the Spanish train service is very positive. The punctuality percentage is very high and the trains are clean and comfortable, having also added more entertainment options in the last year to some high-speed trains. I have also contemplated how the required time to get to your destination has in many cases more than halved.
What do you think of the Spanish train system? Any experience worth sharing? How does it compare to other countries where you have use it?
Links of Interest:
Adif, Líneas de Alta Velocidad (High-Speed Lines)
Europa Press, Renfe afrontará una competencia total en transporte de viajeros (Renfe will face total competition in the passenger’s transport)
Expo92, Web para una Exposición Universal (“Web for a World’s Fair”)
Renfe, BonoAve (High-speed train coupon)
Renfe, Spain Pass
Renfe, Tarifa Intermodal con Barco o Avión (Inter-modal rate with boat or airplane)
Renfe, Tarjeta Renfe+ Plata (Silver loyalty card)
Renfe, Tren+Autobus (train+bus)
Olympic Games, Barcelona 1992
Photos: High-speed train / AVE. Map of high-speed railways network in Spain. Zaragoza’s train station.