By Chris King •
Published: 15 Aug 2023 • 0:31
Image of a Renfe high-speed AVE train.
RENFE has already accelerated its expansion plans by opening routes into France with the help of its Proyectos Internacionales subsidiary.
Now that this operation has been consolidated, the train operator is reportedly setting its sights on Portugal. Rail connections with the neighbouring country are practically nonexistent since the trains linking the Basque Country and Madrid with Lisbon were cancelled in 2020.
Since then, only goods trains, a small regional train between Badajoz and Entroncamento, and the Celta train linking Vigo with Porto have crossed the border.
As the Pope’s recent visit to the Portuguese capital demonstrated, this is a derisory offer given the large market of passengers moving around the Iberian Peninsula.
As they revealed during the electoral campaign, the ambition of the current Renfe board of directors is to achieve the entry of its trains into Portugal as early as 2024.
It will do so once the construction of the first Portuguese high-speed line is completed. This route will link Elvas, in the vicinity of Badajoz, with the town of Évora, some 100 kilometres away. The line will cut journey times between Lisbon and Badajoz to around two hours.
However, Renfe’s intentions do not stop there. As La Información reported, the company has activated a plan with a horizon of 2027 to provide new services along the Portuguese Atlantic coast, connecting its large cities with Madrid.
These services require an initial investment of €15 million for the adaptation of part of its rolling stock to the technical requirements of the Portuguese railway infrastructure, in order to receive its subsequent approval.
As explained by Renfe, this project is still in the design phase. It is still open to discussion and has not been formally approved.
The plan contemplates the use of two different models of trains. One will be an electric one, of the 120 series, for services with multiple intermediate stops. The other will be a dual electric-diesel, of the 730 series, for those routes that are not electrified.
A similar situation already exists with the high-performance line to Extremadura and the connection between Salamanca and the Portuguese border.
The first option would make it possible to launch a route between Lisbon and Porto that would extend to A Coruña. Trains would stop in Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, and Vigo.
Renfe hopes to run two daily frequencies on the main line to Portugal. If everything goes to plan then by 2030 this route will eventually have a high-speed track, which should substantially increase its demand.
A new daily service would also be launched between Madrid and Porto, passing through Medina del Campo in Valladolid and Salamanca.
The dual trains would be used for the Madrid-Lisbon routes, which could be linked twice a day in about six hours by extending the trains that already connect the capital with Badajoz.
In order to take the trains beyond the border, Renfe faces several technical difficulties with complex solutions. The first of these is the electrical voltage of the Portuguese catenary. It operates with a voltage of 25 kV in alternating current, compared to the 3 kV of direct current of the conventional Spanish network.
This will be resolved when Adif executes the pending electrifications in the Salamanca and southern Vigo connections, scheduled for the coming years.
Another problem is the signalling system. Portuguese tracks are equipped with a signal reader called Convel, for which there are no spare parts or units available. These would be necessary for any train to circulate through Portuguese territory.
To solve these issues, a consortium of private operators launched a project to translate that Convel system into another called ERTMS, the standard for all of Europe, but which will not arrive until 2025 at the earliest.
Infraestructuras de Portugal, the manager of the Portuguese railway network, assures the aforementioned news outlet that it had not yet received any request from Renfe to take its trains to Évora.
The state entity pointed out that, as in the rest of Europe, the passenger market is liberalised and classified as ‘natural and positive’ all expressions of interest that may arise from operators wishing to operate on Portuguese territory.
Sources from the Portuguese state operator Comboios de Portugal (CP) assure that they only found out through the press about the interest of their Spanish counterpart.
‘So far, we have not received any additional information, and therefore, we do not have an official position to declare on this issue’, they stated.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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