Spain thwarted in providing high-speed trains through France

by Deborah Cater
French Ouigo high-speed trains already using Spanish network trains
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Despite the French railway company SNCF starting a high-speed trains service in Spain last week, the Spanish railway company Renfe has still not managed to gain a foothold in France for an AVE route to Paris.

For months, both Renfe’s president-director Isaías Táboas and the Ministry of Transport have been urging neighbouring France to clear the way for a Spanish high-speed route. Now the French Ouigo (part of SNCF) is racing across the Spanish rail network at competitive prices, Spain is taking further steps to make use of the French train infrastructure.

For example, Renfe Paris has asked the French regulator Autorité de Régulation des Transports (ART) to supervise compliance with the rules drawn up by the European Commission. The ART calls itself independent and should monitor competition in the opening up of the European railway market. Minister José Luis Ábalos of Transport also informed his French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and European Commissioner for Transport Dina Valean that whilst Spain is implementing the liberalisation of the European railways in all openness, there is no reason why SNCF cannot do the same.

Renfe complains about the lack of information regarding the French infrastructure. It has no information on technical specifications for the signaling equipment. There are obstacles to carrying out tests and a lack of technical support; all essential for obtaining the necessary certification and approvals to enter the French rail network.

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France crucial for Spanish connection with Europe

For Renfe, the French rail network is crucial to serving the rest of the European countries with Spanish high-speed trains. However, the liberalisation of the railways has not led to France making way for other countries to use the French rail network.

French Ouigo in full swing

France, on the other hand, has been operational on the Madrid-Barcelona route with the Ouigo since Monday. It will also start routes from Madrid to the east and south of Spain in the near future. A Madrid-Barcelona ticket with stops in Zaragoza and Tarragona has a starting price of €9, a ticket for children between 4 and 13 years costs €5. Ouigo España announced it has invested around €600million for the purchase of 14 trains. It also created 1,300 jobs, 98% of which are permanent contracts, and at least half of which are intended for female employees.

No AVE to Paris before 2024

Renfe has been planning to start train services from Marseille and Montpellier to Lyon since 2019 and then expand with a route to the French capital Paris. It was planned to have these services operational by 2023, but according to the newspaper El País, this will certainly not be the case before 2024.

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