Spain to launch cheap high-speed train service

Simon Calder
Cheap seats: the launch of Avlo: Renfe

Third-class travel at significantly lower fares: that is the plan for a new low-cost, high-speed train service that will start running between Madrid and Barcelona on 6 April 2020.

Spain’s Ave network, with trains travelling at almost 200mph, has been in operation for nearly three decades. But it has traditionally had high fares, comparable with flying, and has limited appeal except for the business traveller.

Between the Spanish and Catalan capitals, there are dozens of flights each day with fares generally available at around €50 one way for travellers booking a few days ahead.

But the cheapest train ticket on the same basis is €67.

Now the national train operator, Renfe, has revealed a budget brand called Avlo on the flagship route from Madrid via Zaragoza to Barcelona.

Passengers will get one-sixth less space than in second class on the regular Ave service, but fares are likely to be significantly lower.

No details have been announced of prices, ticketing or schedules. It is likely that all bookings will need to be made online, and there will also be airline-like restrictions on baggage.

The president of Renfe, Isaías Táboas, described Avlo as: “A low-priced product for consumers which means there is a product for everyone, so that everyone can get on the railway.

“That’s the goal.”

One aim is to make high-speed rail more appealing – another is to head off competition with new “open-access” train operators; both SNCF of France and Trenitalia are involved in competing start-ups.

SNCF introduced low-cost, high-speed travel with its Ouigo brand in 2013. There has been criticism that such developments lead to a more fragmented system at a time when railway systems should be more cohesive.

Commenting on the announcement of Avlo, the international rail expert Mark Smith, founder of Seat61.com, said: “I’m not sure if these are additional or, like Ouigo in France, a cannibalisation of the existing services which has lead to fragmentation and gaps in the normal timetable.”

Avlo will be extended to other high-speed lines over the next two years.

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