Report: Reviving Portuguese-Spanish passenger rail lines

Friday 28 October 2022

Eco-union, in collaboration with Zero, has produced a new report that aims to bring together updated information regarding the Portuguese-Spanish passenger rail connections on medium to long distance cross-border night and day lines

It intends to understand the current state of play of Portuguese-Spanish passenger rail connections; what is the potential for the main mobility corridors between the two countries; what are the key infrastructure, operational or commercial challenges and opportunities; and what solutions are available in the short, medium and long term.

In Portugal and Spain the transport sector is responsible for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions, with cars and planes being the main emitters. Rail is the most sustainable medium-long distance transport mode, however, it is underutilised, especially in cross-border connections. The scarcity of services and lines, the lack of attractiveness in terms of prices and travel times compared to plane and car mean that rail cannot compete with other modes of transport.

In addition, there are only direct trains between Porto and Vigo. In 2020, Renfe (Spanish operator) and Comboios de Portugal (Portuguese operator) discontinued night train lines connecting Lisbon to Madrid and Hendaye because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, they are still not back in operation. 

The distance between Lisbon and Madrid is 625 km, and the train trip between these two cities can only be made via Badajoz, with a duration of about 10 hours and two train changes. However, the journey between Barcelona and Madrid, which are approximately the same distance apart, can be done in 2.5 hours. Our report highlights the lack of cooperation between operators and between the two countries, which slows down the revival of the lines.

Ongoing works should improve the situation, but the development of new lines and the improvement of the rail network in both countries will take time. Existing infrastructure should be used to propose direct night and daytime train services. 

In the report we call on both public and private sector players to act immediately to bring about a renaissance of passenger train lines between Portugal and Spain, and we highlight a number of important actions to be taken:

  • Relaunch a direct Madrid–Lisbon connection.
  • Promote new (day and night) services from incumbent or new rail operators.
  • Reinforce cooperation and coordination between public authorities and stakeholders.
  • Foster collaboration in the building of the European Core Network.
  • Improve information to travellers and facilitate ticket purchases.

To increase the modal share of rail, it is necessary to continue developing investments and support policies in both national networks (Portuguese and Spanish) but also in cross-border sections and services. To this end, it is necessary to continue deploying the high-speed network but without forgetting the maintenance and increase of the conventional train network.

Read or download the full report here.

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