The Anonymous Widower

RENFE Aims To Compete With Eurostar On Paris – London Route

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Railway Gazette.

There are a lot of issues in this article and there does seem to be a degree of rivalry between French and Spanish rail operators.

In From Madrid To London, I describe a journey by train from Madrid to London via Barcelona and Paris.

These three paragraphs were the end of that post.

I finally arrived in London at 18:30 or just thirteen hours forty minutes after leaving Madrid.

This journey will get quicker, as for quite a way along the south coast of France, the trains don’t run on high speed lines. I can’t find any references to the distances on the journey, although Madrid to Barcelona and Paris to London are given as 621 and 495 kilometres respectively. Map Crow gives the Barcelona to Paris distance at 831 kilometres. I know this isn’t accurate and is probably a bit short, but that gives a total of 1947 kilometres, so my journey was at an average speed of 142 kmh. This compares with an average speed of 200 and 220 kmh on the first and last legs from Madrid to Barcelona and Paris to London respectively.

If the centre section was capable of an end-to-end average of 200 kmh, then a time from Madrid to London of under ten hours should be possible, especially if it was one train all the way.

I suspect that the ultimate aim of RENFE is to run a direct Madrid and London service.

  • It would go via Barcelona, Perpignan, Lyon and Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy.
  • It would bypass Paris to the East.
  • It would serve Charles de Gaulle Airport and Disneyland Paris.
  • A sub-thirteen hour journey would certainly be possible with the existing infrastructure.


  1. There would be lots of opportunities to split the journey.
  2. Travellers regularly fly thirteen hours around the world. C and myself have done it with three kids in steerage.

My statement in the earlier post was ambitious and relied on building a new LGV across the South of France.


It could be an interesting way to travel between London and Spain.

October 26, 2021 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I suspect that Renfe are rather annoyed with the Paris – Lyon – Marseilles situation with the French regulator and national incumbent SNCF blocking their access despite SNCF’s subsidiary Ouigo having access to Spanish tracks. It was ever thus, remember how much the French resisted the introduction of replacement German rolling stock for the London – Paris route. Getlink and HS1 Ltd will equally be pleased to see the availability given up by DB taken up.
    EU Regulations on cross border traffic and access by operators from other member states seems to apply everywhere, except in France.

    Comment by fammorris | October 26, 2021 | Reply

    • I do think that as a rail service between London and Madrid, it could be a very east train service to sell to travellers. I think in the end, the French will just have to give in and run their own services on the route.

      Comment by AnonW | October 26, 2021 | Reply

    • Thello did run overnight Paris-Venice for a while, though this was stopped last year due to Covid. PACA recently awarded Marseille-Nice to Transdev, and other regions have expressed interest in opening up other local routes to competition. Cracks are appearing in the SNCF’s monopoly.

      Comment by Peter Robins | October 26, 2021 | Reply

      • As in the UK, digital signalling will open up the capacity of these routes, so more and more operators will look at bidding for the paths.

        Comment by AnonW | October 26, 2021

  2. the shorter Paris-Madrid route would be via Bordeaux. gives current Paris-Madrid time via Barcelona as 9h, and potentially 6h via Irun. These plans have all been in abeyance on both sides of the border, though it seems the financing for Bordeaux-Toulouse has now been agreed. This page also gives 9h for current Bordeaux-Madrid. I just looked at the current times for Paris-Madrid, and it seems there aren’t any through trains; the fastest is 10h43 with 1h32 connecting time in Barcelona (which roughly corresponds to 9h journey time).

    Now that the Nimes contournement is complete, the only bit of this route that is not LGV is from this to Perpignan (150km). According to the first section to Beziers is now scheduled for 2033-4, with the rest not before 2040. Costs have of course increased substantially – sound familiar? gives Madrid-Barcelona as 506km; B-Perpignan is 157km. gives Paris-Montpellier as 596km, though I’m not sure if that’s the new LGV Sud de France station or the city-centre St Roch.

    Comment by Peter Robins | October 26, 2021 | Reply

    • At the moment the only possibility of a through train from Madrid to Paris would be the route via Barcelona, although if Renfe were prepared to run gauge changing Talgo trains the alternative via Irun could be viable. I don’t see any plans to update the route from Madrid to the border to Standard from Iberian gauge

      Comment by fammorris | October 26, 2021 | Reply

      • Surely gauge-changing trains would be banned by the French as a bit dodgy!

        Comment by AnonW | October 26, 2021

      • the plan is to extend the AVE (which, of course, is standard gauge) to Irun. shows the Grand Plan. The line to Burgos is currently being tested/’homologated’, and is scheduled to be operational in March. The web page for the ‘Basque Y’ is at though this doesn’t give any indication of when it might be operational. gives a date of 2028, though whether that’s still the plan … As in GB, there’s been a lot of questioning recently of whether high-speed rail is worth the money (and Spain has spent a _lot_ of money on it). Even the EU has questioned having everything centred on Madrid (again as in GB).

        The much-delayed line to Galicia should finally be in full operation in December (the 1st part opened in 2007).

        Comment by Peter Robins | October 26, 2021

      • The section to Burgos has now officially opened, with king and PM both on the inaugural train. The tendering process for the stages Burgos-Vitoria has also now started. Much of the Basque section is already complete, though I don’t think anything’s been done yet on the San Sebastian-Irun section. has some interesting numbers: Spain’s high-speed network now extends to over 4000km, and over the 30 years since the first line has cost some €57bn. Puts HS2 into context.

        Comment by Peter Robins | July 22, 2022

    • I see the finance for the Montpellier-Perpignan missing link has now been agreed Pending public enquiry, completion confirmed as 2034/2040

      Comment by Peter Robins | February 2, 2022 | Reply

  3. “I suspect that the ultimate aim of RENFE is to run a direct Madrid and London service.”
    It can aim all it wants, but so long as the French run the EU then the Spanish won’t get anywhere. Fair competition and open access to non-French operators is something the French will never allow. The only way RENFE will get to the UK is if they build a tunnel from Bilbao to Plymouth.

    Comment by Stephen Spark | October 26, 2021 | Reply

  4. AnonW, Trenhotel was a long distance, sleeper service that used Talgo tilting train technology It was operated by Renfe’s subsidiary Elipsos running trains from Spain to France, Switzerland and Italy. As I recall the last time it ran was in 2013 on Madrid – Paris services.
    I know that along with Talgo, CAF also have high speed gauge changing trains but know nothing about their use.

    Comment by fammorris | October 26, 2021 | Reply

    • CAF’s are the Class 120/121 Talgo’s are Class 130 and 730, the latter being diesel-electric bi-modes. They all change gauge without stopping – though they have to slow right down to use the ‘cambiador de ancho’, like a set of points which you enter on one gauge and exit on another. has a list of which trains are used for which services – seems to be up-to-date.

      Comment by Peter Robins | October 27, 2021 | Reply

      • Thought this might be of interest

        As you will see the gauge changing process is pretty quick.

        Comment by fammorris | October 27, 2021

      • they do vary a bit, as Talgo and CAF use different systems. Modern ones are dual, and can handle both systems. Full details at with a list of where they’re installed. I’ve been over several, and you notice them because there’s lots of clunking and whirring, but they certainly beat the old system I remember on the Madrid-Paris night train, where you had to get off the train and wait while they changed the bogies. I remember wandering around Hendaye late at night trying in vain to find a bar that was open. Those were the days (not).

        Comment by Peter Robins | October 27, 2021

  5. This link from Adif takes the explanation of developments on gauge changing a bit further
    Note they do have a dual CAF/Talgo system available although it is far from universal in Spain

    Comment by fammorris | October 27, 2021 | Reply

  6. Seems ironic that after we have left the EU there are proposals for through services to Spain .

    It’s being suggested that the Eastern route of HS2 will use existing network well if that happens ( even one bridge !) then through European services will not be possible as I can’t see new fleets being built to restricted U.K. gauge where even the new Eurostar trains don’t fit as they take advantage of extra height allowed by HS1 gauge !

    In fact Northern Powerhouse Rail should be built to same gauge as HS2 to future proof the network

    Comment by Melvyn | October 27, 2021 | Reply

  7. there’s an item on this in The Times today, which states: ‘The Spanish company expects to operate the service with its own trains, starting with a minimum of seven. Initially serving the London-Paris line, Renfe said it would look to serve “new French and international destinations” in the future.’

    An obvious sticking point with any new destination is going to be customs clearance. It took a long time to get Amsterdam up and running because of this. It’s much simpler to change in Paris/Lille/Brussels. And for that same reason, I don’t think anybody’s going to be looking to serve other stations in Britain. In any case, I think London-Spain is too far, even at TGV/AVE speeds. London-Madrid would be at least 11 hours (Barcelona, say 9), which is a long time to sit on a train, when a plane can do it in 2.5 or so.

    Comment by Peter Robins | October 28, 2021 | Reply

    • Given that Channel Tunnel Safety rules impose a minimum length of, I think, 375 metres (made up of 1 or 2 sets?) – the Class 374 Siemens train is approximately 390 metres, while the Alstom TMST was a bit longer . The original North of London sets were shorter but whatever the length requirements are there can’t be many places these trains can stop anyway.

      Comment by fammorris | October 28, 2021 | Reply

  8. reports that Renfe is working with Grand Union on an open-access service Padd-Cardiff-Carmarthen, using brand-new electro-diesel trains. If approved, launch maybe 2025. The article explains Renfe’s expansion outside Spain.

    Comment by Peter Robins | October 1, 2022 | Reply

    • This subject was dealt with in the Wales Online article that AnonW reported on in May this year when he discussed the use of Class 93 locos on the London – Carmarthen route.
      At the time there was no mention of RENFE’s support, however I’d guess involving them now should be a positive.

      Comment by fammorris | October 1, 2022 | Reply

      • I wonder, if Talgo are very serious about building the Scottish factory, with the main aim of supplying Eastern Europe with Russian and dual-gauge trains. With Roysyth nearby, they could be delivered by a train ferry.

        But with that market in a state of flux at the moment, a deal with RENFE and Grand Union to build 140 mph trains for their Welsh and Scottish services could be a nice little interim earner. LNER are also looking for ten more trains, but will probably go to Hitachi.

        DB have recently done a deal with some of their Arriva services on the Continent. So if RENFE made the right offer could they take over Grand Central and Chiltern. Both these services need new trains.

        So the Spanish get orders for trains in their UK factories and the UK gets some improved train services.

        Comment by AnonW | October 1, 2022

  9. I find it hard to keep up with the comings and goings of Arriva so when you say DB have recently done a deal with some of their Arriva services on the Continent I’m not sure what you’re saying.
    In last few months Arriva have announced and sold off their rail operation activities in Sweden and Denmark. Since DB’s takeover of Arriva in 2010 they haven’t had any interest in any rail activities in Germany from 2012. They still have their rail operations in Poland and the UK.

    Comment by fammorris | October 1, 2022 | Reply

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