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
THE MAJORITY of main lines in Spain are broad gauge, Iberian standard 1668mm having decreased slightly from the original 1674mm. There are also narrow gauge lines of 1000 mm running along the northern coast of Spain as well as between Leon and Bilbao. However, subsequent to Spain joining the EU in 1987 and from the inception of the high-speed network in 1992 it was decided that the new track should be standard gauge 1435 mm to enable better connection with the railways of France, but the rest of the network should remain unchanged. Already the ability to change gauge had been in existence for some time but with the high-speed network needing connection to the broad gauge at its outer extremities, more efficient gauge changing machinery was developed to enable trains to change their gauge as they moved at slow speed through lineside equipment.
SPAIN now has the most extensive high-speed network in Europe and is second only to China in the world with tracks moving out like spokes of a wheel from Madrid to the cities on the coast such as Barcelona, Valencia and Malaga on the Mediterranean as well as A Coruna in the north west: also into France under the Pyrenees towards Perpignan. The new Atlantic high speed line between A Coruna and Vigo is being built in sections in broad gauge but when completed will be changed to standard gauge 1435mm (see link below) . There are several types of high speed train such as AVE, speeds up to 310kph, ALVIA and AVANT up to 250kph and ALTARIA up to 200kph: some are used exclusively on the high speed network whilst others can run on both types of gauge and may be used more on high speed plus regional services. Long-distance IC trains run on the “classic” network, Regional trains are either called Media Distancia(MD) or Regional Expres(RE) and suburban trains are called Cercanias. There is also a narrow-gauge network called the FEVE which runs in sections right across northern Spain from Irun, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Oviedo and towards A Coruna in the north-west. However the downside of these new high speed services is that several of the now underused broad gauge main lines are being closed down and thereby not offering a service to many towns and villages along the way, for example the lines from Aranjuez to Valencia via Cuenca and Utiel, also from Medina del Campo to Ourense via Zamora and Puebla la Sanabria.
INTERNATIONAL services to Portugal are limited – the night train linking Madrid with Lisbon no longer operates: the Sud Express night sleeper from Irun on the French border via Salamanca to Lisbon is not running either and nor does the Trenhotel between Madrid and Paris. However night trains in Europe are making a comeback and services such as these may well be reinstated some time in the future as rail travel becomes more the norm than air travel. A very limited high speed day service runs from Barcelona (with connections from the south of the country) through the Pyrenees to Perpignan in France then on standard tracks to Montpellier before joining high speed line to Paris. It is also possible to travel to /from France by changing trains at Irun on the border, west of the Pyrenees. There is, however, now a cross border service between Badajoz in Extremdura to Entroncamento in Portugal as well as a twice daily service between Vigo in Galicia and Porto.
STOPOVERS ON THE WAY TO SPAIN: While some are put off by the longish journey times between the UK and Spain by rail, there are some interesting places to break your journey on the way out and back. See Howards Low Carb travel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLbSzPaVxv8nAdfYEQ68crQ for some useful suggestions.
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 Spain look out for the word Minusvalidos. Whilst most main line stations, high speed 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 (see link below).
CYCLES can be carried on many trains but can be subject to reservation. You can only take your cycle on Regional and middle-distance trains and you should make sure you get your ticket in advance and say that you will be taking your cycle with you. There should be no additional charge. See link 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 Spain and you should check this in the railway company website – see 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 RENFE which is the main operator within Spain (see link below) .
OPEN ACCESS depends on governmental approval and is subject to the main operator not being put to a financial disadvantage by allowing a third-party to operate on the same tracks. German railways (DB) who own Arriva Spain have been given approval to operate an international service from A Coruna to Porto via Vigo and French railways (SNCF) are already operating their budget Ouigo service on the high-speed line between Barcelona and Madrid with onwards high speed connections – see link below. No doubt more will follow and Spanish railways will be seen on French tracks but meanwhile RENFE has started up its own budget programme in competition to SNCF in Spain with its Avlo service – see link below.
THE FRONTIER STATION at Canfranc, once the largest in Europe, is being turned into a luxury hotel but with a view to reopening the line through the Somport tunnel sometime before 2026. The line operates a regular service to Zaragoza but the track on the French side has been closed since an accident in 1970 but there have recently been discussions between the French and Spanish with a view to repairing and then reopening the line from Pau which would then give an alternate cross border service between the two countries. You can find some information from the link below.
DS March 2022