- the alternative guide to Spain
of the Spanish rail network - updated to 2019 (with
all open high speed lines)
train tickets online now
Tickets in or to Spain at best prices. No surcharge, no fee,
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, work on the
northwest AVE high speed line, from Madrid to A Coruña, is
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, Alicante and Barcelona. Many more sections
are under construction, . Direct high-speed services are now in
operation between Madrid and Paris.
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
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
of the few working steam locomotives in Spain - often used to
pull the Strawberry Train
Steam trains are rare in Spain, and there are only a handful
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.
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
a fine collection of steam locomotives, diesel and electric
locomotives, and historic rolling stock.
The best railway museum in Spain is without doubt
- 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.
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
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
repair workshop (site
► You may also like to
railways in France
heritage railways in Britain
Photo top of page - high-speed train on the upgraded Euromed line,
running between Barcelona and Valencia
Until 1992, all Spanish trains ran on
tracks using the Iberian
gauge of 1.668 metres, which is wider than the standard gauge of
1.435 metres used by national railway networks in the
rest of western Europe.
This made the operation of through trains between
France and Spain impossible, until the first Talgo 3
variable-gauge carriages were introduced in 1963 on a through service
from Barcelona to Geneva. In 1973 a different system was introduced for
the Paris-Lisbon sleeper service, using carriages that could be lifted
off their standard-gauge bogies at the border, and put down on
Iberian-gauge bogies, or vice-versa: but changing bogies was a
slow task, and never caught on. Apart from these special trains, all
other rail passengers between France and Spain had to disembark and
re-embark on another train at the grandiose border train stations at
Port Bou or Hendaye.
So when in the 1980s Spain launched its high-speed
rail plan, it did so with the aim of integrating the Spanish rail
network seemlessly into the European netwo rk, which involved building
new AVE routes to the European standard gauge. That was fine for routes
that were 100% AVE from start to finish, but led to a new problem, how
to interconnect Spain's new AVE lines with the rest of the network,
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention; and in
this case necessity has made Spain into a world leader in the
development of variable gauge trains and dual-gauge tracks. South of
Barcelona a section of the Euromed route - a high-speed line upgraded
from an existing line - is now dual gauge, the tracks having
three rails in order to accommodate trains of either gauge. Elsewhere,
and in particular on routes to Northern Spain, Renfe has
fleets of variable gauge AVE high-speed trains, which can run on the
old network as well as the new one. They can even change from Iberian
gauge to standard gauge, or the reverse, without stopping, as they pass
through gauge-changing points at the intersection between new routes
and old ones.
Will Iberian gauge ultimately disappear? Not in the near
future, that is for sure; but the need for seamless rail freight links
between Spain and the rest of Europe may eventually lead to a national
changeover, probably via the generalisation of dual-gauge lines as an
intermediate stage. It was the need to allow freight trains from the
rest of Europe to reach the port or Tarragona that led to the
installation of dual-gauge track south of Barcelona. The Spanish
government now plans a new dedicated standard gauge freight line down
as far as Valencia.
Text and photos on this page copyright ©
-2019 except for.
Photo (top) by Luis Zamora - licence Creative commons.
Map by About-Spain net based on an original from the Spanish Ministry
of public works.