Spain´s Trains and High Speed Rail Network
Abril 18, 2018 at 3:05 PM
The Spanish railway network today consists of private and public operators and it is the state-owned entity Renfe which serves most passengers travelling around the country, especially to the major cities. In addition to serving passengers, Renfe´s operations expand into train leasing, maintenance and freight services in Spain. Before taking a look at some of Renfe´s amazing trains, including the AVE which you might travel on when visiting Spain, let us have a brief look into Spain´s railway history.
When was Spain´s first railway line built?
The first ever railway line that was built in Spain was in 1848 which linked Barcelona and it´s neighbouring town Mataró in the Catalonia region. Despite it covering a short distance (approximately 20 miles), it was a start which lead to further expansions where railway lines eventually stretched from one side of Spain to the other, reaching both the French and Portuguese border by 1864. Was it all smooth sailing from here for Spain´s railway system? Not quite so. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Spain´s railway lines were left demolished and in 1941 it was nationalised with the formation of Renfe (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles). From this point onwards the Spanish railway system did not make much progress under Franco´s dictatorship and it was only after his death where new plans were created to modernise trains and restructure the network.
Which type of trains does Renfe operate today?
Renfe operates over 9 different kinds of distinct train types, each containing a subset of models to effectively serve its respective route. Below you can see the main types:
AVE : Renfe´s high speed train which reaches impressive speeds of up to 310 km/h, brings you faster than you can imagine to your desired destination in utmost comfort (see times below)
Medium distance: As the name says it, these trains run medium distances at slow speeds
Avant: Typically operate short-medium distances but at high speed
Alvia: These trains are used for long distance journeys around Spain and are slightly slower than AVE trains. Their max speed is 250 km/h
Cercanias: Commuter trains that get you fast to nearby towns and also cheaply (ticket price varies according to distance you travel). If you are looking to do some sightseeing in towns near Madrid, this train will get you there.
Feve: A slow, narrow gauge train which travels to some of Spain´s most beautiful untouched towns (3 different routes: Santander – Oviedo; Bilbao – Santander and Oviedo to Galicia). Be sure to take a camera if you travel with this train because there will be some stunning scenery
Train hotel: The train hotels can travel relatively fast at speeds up to 220 km/h and have all the comforts one can imagine from beds to dining areas. Renfe operates these types of trains on national and international routes
Tourist trains: There are two types of tourist trains which are Al-Andalus & La Robla Express. Al-Andalus is described as a “luxurious rolling palace” which runs exclusive tours of Andalusia. On the other hand, La-Robla Express offers a more affordable 2/4 day luxury tours in the North of Spain (see Renfe website for more information)
Looking instead for something a littler shorter? Have a look at our 1-day luxury tours in the North of Spain !
Why is the AVE series very special?
As you can see from the list above, Renfe has quite a variety of trains that serve different purposes. However let’s focus on one of them: the mighty AVE high speed train. Ever heard of Benjamin Franklin´s saying “time is money”? Well quite frankly, it is true. Time is precious especially if you have paid a lot of money for your flights to get to Spain and are visiting for a short time. Thanks to Renfe´s AVE high speed trains you don´t have to worry about wasting excessive amounts of time on the actual travel to the destination itself. Spain´s railway network has evolved significantly well and will continue to do so with an expected €4,3bn of state funds set aside for investment in 2018 (for route expansion). Moreover, Spain is also recognized for having the biggest High Speed Rail network in the whole of Europe (approximately 3,200 km).
Saving time on travel means more time for activities and tours in Spain to truly make the most out of your holiday.
AVE routes and respective journey duration
Don´t believe how fast the AVE train can get you around Spain? Below you can find out just how long it will take you to get from Madrid to some of Spain´s major cities:
* Journey duration : (hr:min)
Madrid – Zaragoza –Lleida – Camp Tarragona – Barcelona (2:30)
Madrid – Ciudad Real –Puertollano – Cordoba – Seville (2:30)
Madrid – Segovia – Valladolid (0:55)
Madrid – Cuenca –Requena-Utiel – Valencia (1:40)
Madrid – Cuenca –Requena-Utiel – Valencia - Castellón (2:35)
Madrid – Córdoba - Puente Genil - Antequera – Málaga (2:20)
Madrid – Valladolid - Palencia – León (2:10)
Madrid – Cuenca – Albacete (1:20)
Madrid – Cuenca - Albacete - Villena - Alicante (2:15)
Madrid – Guadalajara - Calatayud - Zaragoza - Tardienta - Huesca (2:13)
Does it make sense to take the train from Madrid to Barcelona?
As you can see from above, if you take the AVE high speed train from Madrid to Barcelona, it will only take you 2 ½ hours. Busses running from Madrid cost much less than the train (20-40 Euros) however takes 8 hours on average to reach. In some cases, if the ticket is booked in advance, flying can be cheaper than taking the AVE train. Nevertheless, even though the flight is 1 hour 20 minutes, the overall time to get to your desired location in Barcelona can indeed take longer due to: security, baggage, delays and getting to and from both airports which are located out of the city center. We can therefore recommend with confidence that taking the AVE train is a good option! Be sure to have a look at our fun activities and tours in Barcelona if you visit the wonderful Mediterranean city in Spain.
Does it make sense to take the train from Madrid to Seville?
The train journey from Madrid to Seville (vice versa) only takes 2 ½ hours which again makes the train a good option. The bus would take you 6 hours and 25 minutes - if you book yourself on the fastest one. Generally speaking, if you prefer comfort and speed and don´t mind paying a bit extra, then the high speed train is highly recommended. Taking the train also offers fantastic views of the Spanish countryside!
Can I buy a travel pass for my trip around Spain?
If you are visiting Spain for a period of less than a month, then it might be more economic to purchase Renfe´s Spain Pass. This pass, which is exclusive to non-Spanish residents, can be used on all AVE long distance and medium distance trains. You have the option of purchasing a pass which enables: 4, 6, 8 or 10 trips. Below you can find both the standard and first class fares:
4 trips - Adult: 195 EUR Child: 145 EUR
6 trips - Adult: 275 EUR Child: 200 EUR
8 trips - Adult: 350 EUR Child: 255 EUR
10 trips - Adult: 410 EUR Child: 305 EUR
First class prices
4 trips - Adult: 270 EUR Child: 200 EUR
6 trips - Adult: 380 EUR Child: 280 EUR
8 trips - Adult: 480 EUR Child: 350 EUR
10 trips - Adult: 560 EUR Child: 410 EUR
*Children: 4-13 years old
It is important to mention that this pass is only valid for 1 month after the first trip. You can buy it in advance as it is valid for 6 months from the date of purchase. You must also be aware that the pass does not include seat reservation. Purchasing the Renfe pass is an economic option if you intend to travel a lot during your vacation in Spain.
Additional information about taking trains in Spain
- There is a security check (X-ray baggage check) before boarding the trains, therefore it´s never a good idea to show up last minute. We recommend showing up at least 30 minutes before departure, especially if it is a station like Madrid Atocha or Barcelona Sants.
- You can purchase tickets at the station however it´s always best to get them online. Trains get fully booked fast especially on weekends so it saves times and disappointment if everything is done through the website : www.Renfe.es
- If you are travelling in large groups, Renfe offers attractive discounts between 20%-40% (consult their website for more information).
- Renfe permits each passenger to take up to 3 pieces of luggage however all at your own risk.
- Children under 4 years of age travel for free provided they don´t occupy a seat.