Swiss Railways train in Zurich Station
The map has been extracted from the Railway Map of Europe with kind permission of the publishers.
You can purchase copies of the full map, as well as rail timetables, from The European Railway Timetable website
PORTUGAL runs on Iberian broad gauge throughout its rail system: however, despite joining the EU at the same time as Spain went in the completely opposite direction putting its money on the motor car. It developed motorways across the country although primarily in the north. Now it is starting to regret this decision and its current 2030 rail plan is intended to remedy its loss of track in the past by building new lines or redeveloping past closures but all of this will be on broad gauge: at the present time a major electrification programme is taking place in the Algarve after which the entire line from Lagos in the west to the Spanish frontier at Vila Real de Santo Antonio will be electric. One of the lovliest rail journeys is along the Douro river from Porto to Pocinho: an interesting development, for tourism especially, will be the reinstatement of the line to the Spanish border at Barca da Alva which may then be reconnected into Spain if the line to La Fuente de San Esteban can be reopened, and onto Salamanca. Two previously closed lines are also being reopened, that between Covilha and Guarda as well as from Elvas to Evora: possibly also the line south from Beja to Ourique. A few years ago plans were put in hand to link up with the high-speed line from Madrid near Elvas (see link below) but the Portuguese had cancelled their side of the project although it has recently been reinstated and work may soon start on the first section in Portugal. The prime high speed route between Lisbon and Porto is likely to become a dedicated high-speed track and long-term thinking is that this may be continued south to Faro on the Algarve.
INTERNATIONAL SERVICES run between Porto and Vigo as well as from Entroncamento to Badajoz with connections to/from Madrid and Lisbon (journey time approx 9 hours): presently the service runs once a day in either direction. There is the possibility that the night train from Lisbon to Madrid may recommence in due course as also may the Sud Express night sleeper from Lisbon to Irun via Salamanca with connections on to Paris.
RESERVATIONS are compulsory on high speed lines and advisory on intercity routes: it is not always possible to reserve on regional routes and probably not necessary anyway. The reservation cost will rarely exceed €10 and is often included in your ticket cost: if travelling Interrail, then you should expect to pay for a seat reservation.
MOBILITY: in Portugal look out for the word Deficientes. Whilst most main line stations and intercity trains will have good support if you have a mobility vehicle of your own, the same cannot be said of regional trains and rural stations. Nor can you assume assistance will always be available if you are wheelchair bound. English is a more widely spoken here and it may well be easier to explain your needs on the railways but Algarve Bus website (see below) gives helpful information on stations in the Algarve but note that the Alfa Pendular trains between Porto, Lisbon and Faro have a lift only into carriage 4; the other carriages are step access.
CYCLES can be carried on many trains but can be subject to reservation. Your cycle has to be packed to be taken on board the Alfa Pendular but on intercity trains there are dedicated places for a few and are carried free: best to check in advance. Have a look at the website for cycles on trains shown below.
TICKETS are easy to buy these days thanks to smart phones, iPads and apps. You may in addition be entitled to discounts if you have certain railcards valid for trains in Iberia and you should check this in the railway company websites set out below. Mainline stations have ticket offices where you can buy on the day or in advance but many smaller stations are unstaffed and in such cases you can usually purchase from a conductor on the train but again with an app on a smart phone you don’t have that problem. If you plan to travel extensively in the country then it may pay to buy an Interrail pass if you live in Europe or a Eurailpass if you live elsewhere. You can check everything out at the website of CP which is the main operator within Portugal.
STATIONS AND TILES: the Portuguese love tiles as an integral part of their railway stations. The entrance hall at Sao Bento station in Porto takes some beating with the walls and ceilings covered but at Beira you’ll find some of the most wonderful tile facades anywhere in Iberia – this line used to connect through to Spain at Valencia de Alcantara but beside the station is now an excellent B&B at what used to be the station hotel, also heavily tiled – see site below.
DS July 2023