Spain’s state-owned rail network Renfe is to begin running high-speed AVE services between Madrid and Marseille and Barcelona and Lyon before the summer, according to the Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, Raquel Sánchez.
Renfe trains are also due to run to Paris before the end of the year.
The Spanish press has recently been reporting that Renfe was testing routes to France, but it seems an agreement was made at the Franco-Spanish summit held between the two countries in Barcelona last week.
Though the headlines were taken by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and French President Emmanuel Macron and the signing of a so-called ‘friendship treaty’, Spain’s Transport Minister used the opportunity to talk with her French counterparts and solidify a timetable for the French AVE expansion, as well as discussing the role of France’s public rail operator, SNCF, in the new routes.
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It is thought this will be done through Ouigo, which is a subsidiary of the French network that runs services in Spain.
Renfe has been attempting to expand into neighbouring countries for some years now but has repeatedly come up against administrative barriers in having its trains approved for use abroad.
However, at the summit held in Barcelona, the French assured Spain’s Transport Ministry that Spanish trains will be able to operate on French railways. “Spain will play a decisive role in the railway liberalisation of Europe,” Raquel Sánchez said after the promise of France’s commitment to the expansion.
Tests on routes between Madrid and Marseille and Barcelona and Lyon have already begun, and Renfe has also authorised a first cohort of drivers, with more staff being added progressively until they have the necessary training and qualifications.
High-speed trains will initially run between Madrid and Marseille and between Barcelona and Lyon on alternate days, with six weekly circulations on each route.
As the services ramp up, they will then run twice a day, with Renfe aiming for 28 services a week between the two routes.
A high-speed service to Paris is lined up to run before the end of the year.
Renfe has not specified how long the journeys will take, but it is known that the Madrid-Marseille service will have 13 intermediate stops, including Barcelona, and that the Barcelona-Lyon route has seven stops, including Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpellier, Nimes and Valence.
This is not the real story. RENFE ran these trains – Madrid/Marseille and Barcelona/Lyon – until December 2022. I know this because I used them and very good they were too. Then they were abruptly withdrawn. So the ‘new’ services referred to here are nothing of the kind, they’re just the old ones restored. ‘Testing’ and driver recruitment is entirely unnecessary, it’s all been done. At the moment the high-speed line from Perpignan to Figueres has a grand total of two passenger trains each way (all French).
So the real story is that there is a woefully under-used piece of expensive publicly-funded railway which could be so much better. If anyone knows why this is I’d love to hear.