and all photos on this page copyright
© About-Spain.net 2012 except for.
AVE photo (top) by Ventura2 - licence Creative commons.
Map by About-Spain net based on an original from the Spanish Ministry of public works.
Map of the Spanish rail network - updated to 2013 (with all open high speed lines)
trains in Spain go fast across the plain.... or so one could say today.
It surprises many travellers to learn that Spain now has Europe's most
extensive high-speed rail network, with over 2500 km in service and
many more under construction. For instance, completion of the
northwest AVE high speed line, from Madrid to A Coruña, is
scheduled for 2015.
had a rather slow rail network that was to all intents and purposes cut
off from the rest of Europe; while other parts of Europe use the
standard European (4′ 8½″
or 1435 mm) gauge, Spain and Portugal built their railways to a broader
gauge, 5′ 5⅔″
or 1668 mm. So until 2011, no Spanish trains could connect with the
of Europe, without either having to disembark all their passengers or
freight, or use complex variable-gauge rolling stock.
The new high-speed network uses European gauge:
already operate, at speeds of up to 320 km/h, connecting Madrid with
Seville, Malaga, Valencia, Valladolid and Barcelona. Many more sections
are under construction, and all being well, the first direct high-speed
train service from Amsterdam to Madrid should become possible in 2013.
High-speed services also operate at up to 200km/hr between Barcelona
and Valencia, on Spanish gauge tracks.
Where high speed routes exist, trains are rapid and
comfortable. Where they do not exist, trains are medium fast to slow,
depending on the route. Spain's relatively few double-track electrified
routes offer good and comfortable inter-city services; but the relative
scarcity of these lines goes some way to explaining Spain's
determination to set up a good twenty-first century high-speed network.
Tourist trains and railway museums in Spain
Steam trains are rare in Spain, and there are only a handful of
mainline steam locomotives that are able to haul special trains on the
rare occasions that such are organised. Each year a number of special
excursions are organised from Madrid. The best known of these is the
Tren de la Fresa, or Strawberry train, a train using historic stock and
running weekends from Madrid to Aranjuez and back.
One of the few working steam locomotives in Spain - often used to pull the Strawberry Train
The Strawberry Train is organised by the Madrid Railway Museum
, one of the best railway museums in Europe. It is housed in the
former Las Delicias station, designed by Gustave Eiffel, and has
a fine collection of steam locomotives, diesel and electric
locomotives, and historic rolling stock.
The best railway museum in Spain is without doubt the Catalonia Railway Museum - or Museu del Ferrocarril de Catalunya
- located at Vilanova i la Geltru, half way between Barcelona and
Tarragona. Housed in an old locomotive works, with roundhouse, this
museum has a large collection of historic steam locomotives, plus lots
more to discover.
Spain has two other interesting railway museums, one in Gijon (Asturias),
and the other at Azpeitia, southwest of San Sebastian, in the Basque
country . This Basque Railway Museum is devoted to Basque narrow gauge
railways, and has a collection of historic electric and steam
locomotives. Steam trains operate at weekends from April to November.
Heritage railways in Spain
Spain does not have much in the way of heritage railways:
the Azpeitia railway (above) was formerly part of a large system of
narrow gauge railways along Spain's mountainous northern coastal
regions. A lot of the system is still in operation, and run by Spain's
"other" railway company , FEVE
- Ferrocariles de Via Estrecha. The network of metre-gauge lines
runs from near the French border at Irun to Ferrol on the northwest tip
of Spain (in green on the Spanish rail map above). Tourist trains operate from Bilbao to Ferrol and Bilbao to
Leon. The trains are modern, but not fast; the service from Oviedo to
Ferrol, for example, takes six and a half hours, and Santander to
Oviedo takes four hours.
At the other end of Spain, a little-known but
fascinating tourist attraction is the Rio Tinto Mining railway (website), near Nerva, northwest of
Andalucia). Once over 300 km of railway track served this vast
opencast mining site; today, 11 km of track have been relaid, and
trains run daily from March to November, with steam trains on the first
Sunday of each month. The park also has a mining museum, and mine tour.
In the northeastern region of Catalonia,
there are two tourist rack-and-pinion railways. In the high Pyrenees,
north of Ripoll (province of Girona), the Vall de Núria Rack
Railway runs 15 km from Ribes de Freser to Queralbs and the family ski
resort of Vall de Nuria.
The other Catalan rack railway
is the Montserrat rack railway, near Barcelona, which takes visitors up
to the breathtaking viewpoint and pilgrimage point of Montserrat, just
inland from Barcelona. This railway closed in 1957, but was reopened in
Another tourist railway starts ot Lleida. The
Tren dels Llacs runs on Saturdays to La Pobla de Segur, in the
foothills of the Pyrenees, and sometimes operates steam services using
a historic Beyer Garratt locomotive; but information on this is hard to
come by. Lleida is also home to Spain's only historic locomotive
repair workshop (site).
► You may also like to visit...
Scenic railways in France
useful sources of accommodation information: