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Spain liberalizes high-speed trains with the entry of a French operator

Spain launched this Friday the liberalization of its high-speed train network, with an inaugural trip between Madrid and Barcelona operated by the French state company SNCF.

The entry into Spain of Ouigo, the brand name of the SNCF’s low-cost trains, represents a historic wedge in a market until now monopolized by the Spanish state company Renfe, which in turn wants to enter the French market.

The first train from Ouigo left this Friday from Madrid-Atocha at 10:15 am (08:15 GMT) and was reserved for a handful of guests. Commercial service will start on Monday.

Ouigo will propose 5 daily round trips between Madrid and Barcelona. The 620 km of route are completed in two and a half hours (as is the route offered by Renfe), with tickets starting at 9 euros.

In turn, Renfe offers 14 round trips, at much higher prices.

The SNCF has invested 600 million euros (about 725 million dollars) in its Spanish adventure, for which it has bet despite the enormous losses suffered in France due to the pandemic.

And its ambition does not stop at the recently launched route, since the SNCF wants to take travelers from Madrid to Valencia and Alicante at the end of the year, and to Andalusia in 2022 or 2023.

“Spaniards are going to discover both low-cost and two-tier trains,” used by SNCF on its high-speed lines in France, Voyages SNCF CEO Alain Krakovitch told AFP.

Spain has the second largest high-speed network in the world only behind China, with 3,200 km. The SNCF saw that this network was not sufficiently exploited, and found a business opportunity.

“The train has undoubted appeal for the Spanish, but we are the first to admit that we have not used it enough,” acknowledged Isabel Pardo de Vera, president of Adif, the public company that manages railway infrastructure in Spain. According to her, “liberalization is essential to fill our infrastructures with trains and attract more passengers.”

In response to French competition, Renfe decided to launch its own low-cost high-speed trains, called Avlo. They were supposed to start last year, but they will finally start operating the Madrid-Barcelona route on June 23.

“Liberalization is an opportunity for Renfe,” the Spanish company told AFP, highlighting that it would like to be able to enter into operations in the French market, “where Renfe and other Spanish companies are encountering many obstacles.”

A third player will be added to the competition between Renfe and the SCNF: Ilsa, a joint subsidiary of the Italian state company Trenitalia and the Spanish airline Air Nostrum, which expects to launch in the Spanish high-speed market in the second half of 2022.

liu-emi / avl / du / mar

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